Posts Tagged ‘Hope Program’

A Fresh Start: New Students Enter the Hope Education Program

September 1, 2011

This fall, we welcome six new students into the Hope Education Program.

L to R, Top to Bottom: Jonathan, Eliud, Paloma, Kareli, María Luisa, Paty

Through the Hope Education Program, we offer students from children’s homes a way to continue their education when free public school ends at ninth grade. The students stay on the Back­2Back campus in homes with staff families (house parents), experiencing a healthy family life. Students are mentored, provided with an education, and encouraged to pursue their dreams so that they can become self-sustaining individuals.

Already, they are being faced with the challenge of learning how to navigate the public transportation system to and from their new schools. They are attending schools with some of Monterrey’s wealthiest families and are being challenged to compete academically and blend in socially with this new crowd. Additionally, they are learning to manage new jobs on and off campus to help pay for their transportation. We are excited to say that the seasoned veteran students in the Hope Program have extended a warm welcome to the new kids on campus and are showing them the ropes. We are full of anticipation, eager to see how the Lord will use us and the teens who we have already invested in to shape and mold the new students. We are hopeful that with the start of an education, the love of a family environment, and the encouragement of other believers, that these seeds have landed on fertile soil ready to grow.

Advertisements

Hope Program Students Explore their Heritage, by Juan Porto, Back2Back Hope Program Director, Monterrey, Mexico

June 27, 2011

Our Hope Program students recently traveled on a five-day field trip to Mexico City.  This trip was intended to serve as an opportunity to expose the students to the historical and cultural background of Mexico. We visited the anthropology museum, the historical center, the National Palace, the ruins of the Templo Mayor, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Paseo de la Reforma, the Pyramids of Teotihuacan and the New Museum Soumaya, which has recently opened and is already considered one of the best art museums in the world, with over 16,000 works of art. The museum has works comparable to Dali, Degass, Van Gogh, Picasso, Tamayo, Diego Rivera and many others.

On our way back from Mexico City, we stopped in Galeana. This town is home to three of the boys from the Joseph House, a Hope Program home on the Back2Back campus. It was exciting to let them show off their town and some of their relatives in that town.

We were able to thank God for the opportunity to travel together and discover more about Mexico. I also enjoyed watching them try different foods and adapt to new experiences. They had great attitudes even when they were hot or tired and gained a tremendous amount of appreciation for their heritage.

I was very happy to share the history of our country with the boys and to collectively learn how to create a better society for our future.

Through the Hope Education Program, Back2Back offers students from children’s homes a way to continue their education when free public school ends at ninth grade. The students stay on the Back­2Back campus in homes with staff families (house parents), experiencing a healthy family life. Students are mentored, provided with an education, and encouraged to pursue their dreams so that they can become self-sustaining individuals. To learn more about contributing to Back2Back’s Hope Program, please contact our US office at 513-754-0300, ext 1707.

Hope Program Student Outreach, by Ruby Moyer, Back2Back Mexico Staff

June 6, 2011

A few weekends ago, a few staff members took the Hope Education Program students who live on our campus on a mission trip to an orphanage about 1 ½ hours away in the desert. We loaded up two Back2Back vehicles with food, luggage, work supplies, and teens to try a new adventure. None of the teens were sure what to expect but we wanted them to experience what our work teams experience when they come to Back2Back.

The teens took turns helping prepare meals and clean up and they all were very willing to help! The morning started with breakfast, quiet time, a small group time, and then prep to leave.

We headed out Saturday to the nearby pueblo (small town) to do a work/outreach project. The clinic needed repair and we painted, did electrical work, and repaired doors, etc. There were lots of children hanging around watching. We handed out lunches to these same children and ate together. After a day of work, our teen girls had prepared a kind of Bible School for the local children. They had a Bible story of David and Goliath and an art project, and games. I loved watched our teens faces as they played and helped the children. There were so many smiles everywhere!

Meanwhile, we also gave out sheets, towels and food to the women of the village.

The day ended with us circling around and praying for the people who had come out. I watched as our teens lay hands on the children and prayed over everyone and my heart was full of joy!

That evening in debriefing almost everyone of our group said they hadn’t been sure about this trip and didn’t really want to come, but their minds had been changed and they loved it!

Sunday we visited a local church and went back to hang out a little more with our new friends at the children’s home. I know I saw some tears as we pulled away to head back to Monterrey.

What an amazing opportunity for these teens who have mission groups coming to them and serving them, to go out and do the very same thing! God is moving in them and they are learning to serve Him. They are ready to go again!

Through the Hope Education Program, Back2Back offers students from children’s homes a way to continue their education when free public school ends at ninth grade. The students stay on the Back­2Back campus in homes with staff families (house parents), experiencing a healthy family life. Students are mentored, provided with an education, and encouraged to pursue their dreams so that they can become self-sustaining individuals. To learn more about contributing to Back2Back’s Hope Program, please contact our US office at 513-754-0300, ext 1707.

Back to School, by Mindy Webster, Back2Back Mexico Staff

April 29, 2011

I don’t usually associate spring time with “back to school” time, but that’s what it’s been for our Monterrey staff!  We realized a need to be more educated on the psychological and emotional issues that the orphan child faces and had a desire to be more equipped to do something about it.  So this spring we went back to school.  We kicked this off with a PhD student from Ohio who came to our campus and gave a four-day seminar on issues like domestic violence and the poverty cycle.  After that, we launched an eight-week Friday morning training series.  We are going through the material that I used to teach to therapeutic or specialized foster parents in the States, and talking about how to implement what we’re learning into our life and ministry here.

Back2Back Monterrey staff learn about child attachment issues as a part of ongoing development training

One of my favorite sessions to teach is the one on attachment issues.  We talked about how children who are abused, neglected or abandoned don’t develop trust and attachment with their caregivers, and how this leads to many problems later in life.  I was sitting down with one of our Hope Program house parents when she mentioned some issues with one of the boys in her house.  We were able to determine that he was struggling with attachment issues, and she now had a variety of ways to approach the situation.  She felt empowered and excited to really help her teenager instead of discouraged or overwhelmed.  It’s exciting to see how this information is changing the way that many of us do ministry here, and we’re only a few weeks in!

Building into the Future of a Student, by Kathy Couch

March 15, 2011

Boys are rough, tough and have endless energy.  How do you deal with that in a 17 year-old young man?  Tae-kwon-do.  One young man in our Hope Program, Antonio, has found a great outlet through tae-kwon-do.  He is now in his second year of lessons and just passed his red belt, level one examination.  One component of Back2Back’s Hope Education Program is that we encourage our students to participate in an extracurricular activity.  Many of these students have never had an opportunity to pursue a hobby before.

Antonio was introduced to tae-kwon-do through his college’s team.  After a short time, he grew eager to learn faster so we enrolled him in a tae-kwon-do school.   Apex Church from Ohio offered to partner with Back2Back by funding lessons for Antonio and also soccer lessons for another Hope student, Daniel.  This is a great way to build independence and confidence in a teenage.  After growing up in a children’s home where everything is shared, extracurricular activities teach the student’s independence and how to engage socially.   As we have watched Antonio grow in his craft, travel with his teammates to out of town competitions, and discover the satisfaction of succeeding at something, there is no way you can put a dollar amount on that.  It is indeed priceless.  This will follow him into his adult world where problem solving skills, teamwork, and interpersonal relationships will be crucial.   We are grateful for Apex’s vision to build into a student’s life through Back2Back’s Hope Education Program.

Antonio proudly displays his awards

Through the Hope Education Program, Back2Back offers students from children’s homes a way to continue their education when free public school ends at ninth grade. The students stay on the Back­2Back campus in homes with staff families (house parents), experiencing a healthy family life. Students are mentored, provided with an education, and encouraged to pursue their dreams so that they can become self-sustaining individuals. To learn more about contributing to Back2Back’s Hope Program, please contact our US office at 513-754-0300, ext 1707.

Celebrating Milestones, by Claire Rogers, Back2Back US Staff

September 29, 2010

Saul, Marcos, and Omar on graduation day

Congratulations to our recent high school and college graduates! Through the Hope Education Program, Saul and Omar recently graduated from college, with Saul earning a law degree and Omar receiving a degree in Computer Systems.  Marcos, Katya and Perla graduated from high school.  Many of these students are the first in their family to attend and graduate from high school and college.

Last weekend, Back2Back staff cheered them on as they stood alongside their classmates to receive their diplomas.  We are so proud of their success and are eager to continue to support them as they pursue their career goals. Thank you for joining with us by investing in their future through the Hope Education Program!

Through the Hope Education Program, Back2Back offers students from Mexican children’s homes a way to continue their education when free public school ends at ninth grade. The students stay on the Back2Back campus in homes with staff families, experiencing a healthy family life, perhaps for the very first time. Students are mentored, provided with an education, and encouraged to pursue their dreams so that they can become self-sustaining individuals who give back to their community. Only 4% of Mexicans complete college; those who do will become the leaders of tomorrow, forever shaping the direction of their country.

For more information on contributing to the Hope Program, please contact the Back2Back US office at 513-754-0300.

A Fresh Start: New Students Enter the Hope Education Program, by Kelly Velasco, Back2Back Mexico Staff

August 24, 2010

Yesterday, we welcomed ten new teens into the Hope Education Program.

Top Row (L to R): Jaime, Adan, Mario, Camilo, Jovani; Bottom Row (L to R): Yadira, Selene, Yaquelin, Shirley, Shannon

Through the Hope Education Program, we offer students from children’s homes a way to continue their education when free public school ends at ninth grade. The students stay on the Back­2Back campus in homes with staff families (house parents), experiencing a healthy family life. Students are mentored, provided with an education, and encouraged to pursue their dreams so that they can become self-sustaining individuals.

Selene, Shirly and Shannen are the three new girls living in the Hope House, the home where my husband and I live as house parents.

(Left to right) Selene, Shirley & Shannon

They are from Villa de Juarez and Manantial de Amor. Selene is fifteen years old and the other two girls are sixteen. They started high school yesterday. They are easing into their new transition and as they say, their new life is “super chido” which means “way cool”.

The John House welcomed Jesus Mario “Chuy” from Douglas, Adan and Camilo from Imperio de Amor, and Jaime (a.k.a. “Jimmy”) from the government orphanage DIF Capullos.

Mario (Chuy)

Adan

Camilo

Jaime

Jovani, who is from Galeana, will be living in the Joseph House with Juan and Rosa Porta.

Jovani

The boys walked into their new homes and didn’t skip a beat. They are the new kids on campus along with three other students in the Esther and Joseph Houses. Already, they are being faced with the challenge of learning how to navigate the public transportation system to and from their new schools. They are attending schools with some of Monterrey’s wealthiest families and are being challenged to compete academically and blend in socially with this new crowd. Additionally, they are learning to manage new jobs on and off campus to help pay for their transportation. As house parents, we are excited to say that the seasoned veteran students in the Hope Program have extended a warm welcome to the new kids on campus and are showing them the ropes. As house parents, we are full of anticipation, eager to see how the Lord will use us and the teens who we have already invested in to shape and mold the new students. We are hopeful that with the start of an education, the love of a family environment, and the encouragement of other believers, that these seeds have landed on fertile soil ready to grow.

Yo Soy Libre, by Kathy Couch, Back2Back Mexico Staff

June 29, 2010

Before summer started here at Back2Back Mexico, we hosted a youth retreat for the teens that live on our campus through the Back2Back Hope Education Program.

Students during the youth retreat

The theme was “Inner Healing.”  Several of our youth started praying and fasting for this event about two months before.  The testimonies that flowed from the retreat were incredible.  Testimonies of feeling like baggage from the past had dropped off of their shoulders, they felt free, forgiven, and worth something.  This retreat culminated in a church service at a local church where our youth gave testimonies in front of a large congregation of people.  One young man in particular, got up and yelled into the mike, “YO SOY LIBRE!”  (I am free).  He then went on to explain how he had made several bad choices in his life, but God had forgiven him and he truly felt free for the first time in his life. That phrase ‘Yo soy libre’ has rattled around in my head these past few weeks.

Lately I have been praying that God would renew my passion for the orphan child.  Little did I know how badly it would hurt.  At one of our children’s homes we are short a care giver.  One of our single staff women has stepped in to be surrogate aunt until we can find a replacement.  Others of us, including me, are helping share the load of fourteen little guys between the ages of two and eight.

I have helped bathe them and put them to bed.  Bedtime has to be the loneliest time in a children’s home.  All those little bodies wanting someone to rub their back and treat them like the children they are. You always have someone crying, throwing things, one with a meltdown, one who has pooped his pants, and the never ending climbers! The first few days I helped out, I would come back to our campus and just cry.  I really could not stand the pain that these kids were going through.  One morning I was reading my Bible, flipping through the Psalms and I hit upon Psalm 61:1-3:

O God, listen to my cry!  Hear my prayer!  From the ends of the earth I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.  Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings.

Then the phrase ‘Yo soy libre’ started rattling around in my brain again.  God has done just that through the Hope Education Program.  He has heard the cries of the orphan child.  He is taking back the ground that the enemy meant to use to destroy them.  Through healthy interactions God is restoring them, giving them meaning, purpose, and love.  I feel totally humbled to be part of this process.  I know that there will always be orphans. There will always be wounds that are seemingly too deep to heal, but our God is a miracle worker.  He never sleeps. He never slumbers.  He never tires of hearing our prayers.  Pray for this large group of kids.  The last count I heard was 148 million but that was before the tragedy in Haiti.  Pray that God protects and provides for these children.  Pray for passion for the orphan child.

We Want Him, by Cathy Huffer, Back2Back Mexico Staff

June 1, 2010

“No! You can’t take him. WE WANT HIM,” were the words that came from the back of the bus.

Three of the guys from the short-term mission group that we had taken to the Rio, had their arms around him and weren’t letting him go. Antonio, one of our Back2Back staff guys, had jumped on our bus to see if Oscar, one of the students in our Hope Education Program, had wanted to ride with him in another vehicle. The guys in the group were not letting him go. They wanted him and it was more than obvious. The smile on Oscar’s face told it all.

This is what our ministry is all about- advocating for these kids and teens in Monterrey, Mexico; in Jos, Nigeria; and in Hyderbad, India. We as a staff feel called to give these kids and teens the message that we want them, Jesus wants them. When groups, supporters and advocates join us in saying WE WANT YOU, its God’s way of screaming their value from the mountaintops! I hear the echos of Isaiah 41 :9-10 “I took you from the ends of the earth from its farthest corners I called you, I said, ‘You are my servant’ I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you;do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Have you heard God saying this to you? He is yelling, ” I want you.” ” I have chosen you and have not rejected you.” Sometimes in life it doesn’t seem this way. Its difficult to understand why things happen to us. But we need to know that like those three guys, God embraces us and says ” I want you and will not let you go.” Have you heard Him?

Cinco de Mayo Open House

May 13, 2010

Thanks to all those who came out to our Cinco de Mayo Hope Program Open House last week! The students and staff from the Hope Program enjoyed getting a chance to meet with you! Here are a few pictures from the evening.

Hope Program Cooking Show, by Chelsie Puterbaugh, Back2Back US Staff

May 5, 2010

Tuesday night, Back2Back hosted a Cinco de Mayo fundraiser at the Party Source in Newport, KY.  Two students from the Back2Back Hope Program* (more info on the program below), Sebastian and Oscar, gave a great cooking demonstration and food tasting for thirty-two guests!  All proceeds from the cooking show will go toward academic scholarships for Back2Back Hope Program students.

During the cooking event, Oscar and Sebastian shared stories about their lives, told the crowd about their favorite food, their most enjoyable cooking style, and how they knew they wanted to become “great chefs”.  They also answered cooking questions and shared culinary insights with the audience, such as how to properly peel a tomato (by shocking it with ice water), blanch a pepper, and how to extract flavor from rice.

Sebastian prepares Tamal Azteca, a Mexican lasagna, while Beth Guckenberger interprets

Sebastian adds the finishing touches to the Tamal Azteca dish

Oscar prepared Caldo Tlalpeno and Arroz a la Mexicana, two Mexican dishes

This event, for me, was about so much more than enjoying delicious food prepared by Sebastian and Oscar.  I was able to look beyond their amazing cooking skills and see God fulfilling His promises – to give them a hope, a future and so much more!  Their life-long dreams are becoming realities all thanks to the Hope Education Program.  The dreams and passions they thought were so distant and unattainable are now a present reality and joy in their lives.

Mauricio, Oscar, Matt and Sebastian (left to right). Mauricio and Matt are two Back2Back staff members, who, along with their families, act as house parents for Hope Program teens, like Sebastian and Oscar

*Through the Hope Education Program, we offer students from Mexican children’s homes a way to continue their education when free public school ends at ninth grade. The students stay on the Back2Back campus in homes with staff families, experiencing a healthy family life, perhaps for the very first time. Students are mentored, provided with an education, and encouraged to pursue their dreams so that they can become self-sustaining individuals who give back to their community. Only 4% of Mexicans complete college; those who do will become the leaders of tomorrow, forever shaping the direction of their country.

Join us for a Hope Program Open House in Cincinnati!

April 28, 2010

Spa Night for Girls in Hope Program, by Jessica Biondo, Back2Back Mexico Staff

April 21, 2010

Around Christmas time, some of my dear friends generously donated boxes full of delightfully girly products for the girls in the Back2Back Hope Education Program. The donation was originally for Christmas gifts, but the shipment was detained in Texas and did not arrive in Mexico until after Christmas had come and gone.

Random thought: Isn’t it funny how we originally intend for something to be used in a certain way and then it turns out that God has a totally different and immeasurably better purpose in mind?

Anyway, back to the story… In the beginning of February all of the gifts arrived and I was so excited to see everything! Lotion, body wash, deodorant, toothbrushes and make-up… lots and lots of make-up! All of these items are much needed necessities on our campus. I couldn’t wait to put together packages for the girls!

Each of the female teens that live on our campus (there are eleven) received a bag which contained something similar to the picture below.

Rather than just drop the bags off at the girls’ homes, my roommate and I had another idea in mind! A SPA NIGHT! We thought it would be fun to invite the girls over to our house for manicures, pedicures, facials, chocolate and a chick-flick! At the end of the night we would give each of the girls their gift!

Kayta (with her gift) getting ready for her pedicure!

I ran the pedicure station! Here is Carolina getting her toes painted...

Here is Becca giving Perla a manicure...

Some of the girls at the end of the night! We all had so much fun!

My favorite part of the night was hanging out with the girls and getting to know each of them better. A special thanks to my friends who made all of this possible! You are such a blessing and God has used your generosity to bring joy to these sweet girls! Thank you!

Blessings on a Page, by Mandy Lail, Back2Back Mexico Staff

April 19, 2010

This week we had a group of college age students visit the Back2Back campus in Monterrey.  Besides having a great week serving in the children’s homes and Rio areas, this group took a particular interest in our students living here on campus, the students of the Hope Education Program.  Just today I was handed envelopes for all five boys living in my home through this program.  These envelopes were filled with journal entries/letters written by group members for my boys.  They are blessings on a page.

The transition from living in a children’s home to life on the Back2Back campus is a big one for most of our students.  One of the things many of them miss is all the fun they had with our American groups who visit!  They miss the cookouts, field trips and all the attention and love given by mission trip team members.  Some still interact with groups, but many are busy with school and work while groups are here.  Sometimes they feel a little left out.  But not this week.  This week this group went out of its way to love on our students. And while the students aren’t little any more, the attention, love, and relationship still brings a big impact.  It helps them to remember that they are loved and loveable.

For me, the best part was an hour on the couch translating the letters for one of my boys; great letters, letters in English, simple letters full of love and truth.  These letters opened the door for a great conversation with my foster son about some important spiritual truths, about who he is in Jesus and how God ‘s love for him is so deep that He will use anything and everything to get to him. Even letters from a college student he’s never met, written in a language he doesn’t really understand.  That’s how far our God will go to pursue us…with blessings on a page.

A few of the letters

Cincinnati Cinco de Mayo Cooking Show with Celebrity Chef and Hope Program Students!

March 31, 2010

Spaces are limited and reserved on a first come basis!

Take Flight, by Jessica Biondo, Back2Back Mexico Staff

February 8, 2010

As you may know, the mission of Back2Back is to provide “Care for Today and Hope for Tomorrow” to the abandoned and neglected children of Monterrey, Mexico. When I write for this blog, I hope to give you tastes of what that looks like in our day-to-day activities. Every day is different depending on the needs of the various homes that we work with. However, one thing that remains constant is that we have about forty teens that live on our campus.

These teens grew up in the children’s homes that we work with, but at age fifteen they can no longer live in the homes. Due to this, many of the teens are back out on the streets and end up in the black market or prostitution because they believe that they have no other options. In order to put a stop to this cycle and provide hope for these young students, Back2Back started the Hope Program. When the students turn fifteen they are invited to come and live on our campus in one of the teen homes with house parents.

While they are here, Back2Back pays for them to complete high school and go to college to pursue the degree of their choice. They are given hope through education and opportunities for success, but more importantly, our constant prayer is that we are able to show them a greater hope. A hope that does not depend on circumstance, education or opportunity. A hope that is only found in Christ. It breaks my heart to think of the lives that many of these students have lived. They have suffered through constant abandonment, abuse, neglect, loneliness… and many more things that I cannot even imagine. Yet we know that we serve a God who can bring healing, redemption, identity and hope.

A few weekends ago, we took the teens to a youth conference of 400 students from all over Monterrey at one of the churches in the area. The theme of the event was “Alza el Vuelo”, which means “Take Flight”. It was a powerful weekend of worship and speaking. It also opened a lot of doors for great conversations with some of our teens who are really seeking right now. But the thing I am most excited to share is that one of the teens accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior!! Praise the Lord!!! My heart fills with such excitement as I see the things that God is doing on our campus. He is pursing the young people who most of the world had written off and cast aside. Yet he is pursing them, capturing their hearts and preparing them for mighty things in the future! What a loving God he is! He will not give up on them, and we must not either. Please pray for each precious teen on our campus. That each one will come to know Christ and experience joy, peace and hope!

Read more about the event from Back2Back staff member Hope Maglich here.

A few Back2Back staff members with some of the girls at the conference

During worship at the conference

Crossing Cultures, by Ruby Moyer & Kathy Couch, Back2Back Mexico Staff

January 31, 2010

During the Christmas holidays this year, we had the opportunity to take a few of the Hope Program teens to the United States.  We thought it would give them great insight on what it’s like to live in a foreign country with a foreign language surrounding you at all times. It put a face to the Hope Program for some of our supporters.  What a great way to merge two cultures.

Ruby loaded up Jazmin and Evelyn for a long day of travel.  We took two buses, two flights, and a car ride to finally arrive in Indiana.  We were greeted with snow to the girls delight.

Our two weeks were filled with the girls meeting people, eating in restaurants, shopping, being cold, and visiting Chicago – all of which were new experiences.  It gave us a chance to deepen our relationship and for them to see what life is like in the United States.  They got to spend time with their previous house parents, Bill and Heather Merrill, who they still have a relationship with, and one of the highlights was a day in Chicago that the Merrills blessed us with.  We stayed in a 5–star hotel and felt like queens for the day.

Tim and Kathy sent Antonio to visit a supporter in Austin, Texas.  He experienced his first border crossing and a bus ride in the US, alone, and lived to tell about it.  A few days later, we loaded up Cheko and headed to Austin to pick up Antonio and then on to Oklahoma.  The young men who had never seen snow before were able to experience a blizzard on Christmas Eve.  During the week, they encountered lots of opportunities to push people out of the snow and to shovel driveways.  They even built a snowman and their comment was, “It’s a lot harder than it looks!”

When you grow up in a childrens’ home all your life, you are constantly surrounded by people.  One thing we noticed on this trip was that being in a completely different environment, their personalities were able to shine through and we saw a side of them we had never seen before.  You could see on their faces that they felt loved, valued, and important.

Love is a Verb, by Mandy Lail, Back2Back Mexico Staff

January 29, 2010

I love the complexity of God.  I may have charged into the city of Monterrey with great passion for changing the lives of orphans but I keep seeing God doing His work on me as well!  Right now it’s grammar lessons.

I am always fascinated with the word love.  We love to be “in love”, to feel loved, even feel love for another but that’s just one sense of the word.  I am fascinated at our preoccupation with love as a noun. It’s this wonderful, sometimes elusive thing we are constantly seeking.  But what about when love is a verb?  What about when it’s all about our actions and not our feelings?  What about when loving someone hurts? But we do it anyways but God calls us to love.  While I am sure He would be pleased if it felt good to us I believe He calls us to action with love.  He wants us to pour it out on others and pour it out and pour it out and our it out.  Regardless of how it feels.
God has called me to a complexity of love.  Parenting is love.  It about actions for sure but often we can carry those out because we FEEL so much love for our children.  We fall in love with them often early & fast and that fuels our ability to love in action. We serve & sacrifice because we feel love for them.  We tolerate a complete loss of control of our personal time, TV choices, dining choices, even sleeping arrangements in order to love/serve/parent our kiddos. It’s hard but our feelings for them keep us going.

So this I am experiencing this new level of love with my foster sons. I do feel love for them for sure but it’s not the same.  We haven’t bonded the same as my little ones.  They aren’t always wiling and open to be loved unlike my little ones. They come with other family attachments that can make it hard for them to figure out where we, their house parents, fit for them emotionally.  So it’s this new level of love for me.  I get a lot less back emotionally from my sons.  So I have to dig deeper into Jesus and into that sense of unconditional love … action love.  Sometimes I don’t want to love them like they are mine.  I want to guard my heart.  They can be hurtful at times.  I could lose one of them at any moment (should they decide to leave the program etc.) It’s so hard to love them with as much of me as I can when it doesn’t feel the same.  It doesn’t always come back to me.  This is where I am learning to lean in more to Jesus for His strength to LOVE (verb) them the best I can.

Now we are fostering a toddler son as well.  And I find this grammar lesson digging to new depths.  Again I want to guard my heart.  I don’t want to “fall in love” with him, to bond too deeply because I can only imagine how much it will hurt when he leaves.  But he needs it.  He needs my love in action.  So I am learning to lean in, to press harder into Jesus for the strength I need to love.  Learning how to rely on Jesus to give me what I need to love this boy like he is mine, to love with all I’ve got…because that’s what God wants for Him.  That’s a way God will show himself to this sweet boy.  And for me it’s a hard but important grammar lesson.  Isn’t God a God of action?  Doesn’t His immense love for us play out with His son dying on a cross? If that isn’t love in action, I don’t know what is.

Northwestern Mutual Kelley Financial Group Wins National Community Impact Award for Service with Back2Back

January 26, 2010

Cincinnati’s Kelley Financial Group, a network office of Northwestern Mutual, is the recipient of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation 2010 Community Impact Award for their ongoing support of Back2Back Ministries (B2B).  Northwestern’s employees and clients have funded and built a teen home on our campus for the Hope Education Program students.  The $50,000 award was given to Back2Back to use toward scholarships and educational expenses of the Back2Back Hope Program students.  Thank you to Northwestern Mutual for your continued commitment to joining with Back2Back Ministries by providing “care for today and hope for tomorrow” to children in need.

Scissors, by Mandy Lail, Back2Back Mexico Staff

January 5, 2010

I can’t believe it’s been a year already.  January 1, 2009 our family moved into the John House (part of the Hope Program) here on the Monterrey, Mexico campus.  Just a few short days later, five boys who had been living in children’s homes moved in as well. At the start of 2010 there is so much to look forward to.  We have lots of challenges ahead in this new year, but I can’t help but be hopeful when I remember how faithful God has been in 2009.  We have come a long way as a family.

Just a month or so ago one of the boys and I were talking about scissors.  He needed to use some and we couldn’t find any around.

Of course the mom in me starts asking “What happened to the pair I bought you for school?”

He tells me he used to keep them in a spot above his bed (he sleeps on the bottom of the bunk bed) but can’t find them now.

I am thinking and ask, “Why did you keep them there?”

After a short and rather cryptic conversation I begin to understand.  He kept them there for protection, in case he needed to protect himself at night.  He tells me that the childrens home, he slept with a stick under his bed for the same reason.  It’s sinking in, I am beginning to understand.  And then I innocently ask, “But you don’t need them anymore?”  And he answers “No.”

We have lots of challenges to face with our boys this year.  A hard start to high school, an ongoing court case, and the always present chores, homework, GIRLS, etc.  But my boys feel safer than they did last year.  My foster son no longer sleeps with a weapon for protection.  That is a blessing I cannot deny.  And with that in mind, I look forward to what God has in store for 2010!

Weary in Doing Good, by Matt Cooper, Back2Back Mexico Staff

October 30, 2009

If you have children then what I’m about to tell you will not come as a surprise.  Parenting is many times a thankless job. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we love our kids and we know that ultimately we are not only serving them but also the Lord, and that we should not parent with the motivation or expectation that our children will be grateful for the hours, the sweat and the tears that we pour over them – but sometimes you just wish they would express some small form of a “thank you”. As parents to six children of our own, and house parents to eight teenage boys here in the Hope Program, we have the special pleasure of seeing this lovely “thankless” spirit day in and day out….multiplied by fourteen!

So…more true confessions:  Sometimes this “spirit of thanklessness” (I believe I just made up that word!) can make a parent lose steam. It can make one wonder why they spend their life cooking, cleaning, reminding people to do their chores, making sure people are getting to bed on time, and up on time, and that they’ve finished their homework. Sometimes it starts to get old. The good news is that God is great at taking over when we reach what sometimes feels like the end of ourselves. Julie and I want to brag on the Lord that He’s doing a great work in us in this season of our life. I think that in some ways we had reached the end of ourselves. The wonderful news is that He is making all things new – including bringing renewed focus and vision, renewed passion and love towards our boys, and even what you might describe as personal revival in our relationship with him.

In the midst of all that God is doing he recently gave my wife specific encouragement with regard to her role as a mother to 14. In Galatians 6:9 we are reminded, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” It sounds like such a simple command – but yet if we are trying to “do good” out of our own strength it can become so very difficult. Praise God that the very motivation to “do good” is from him, and that ultimately all the good we do is for him or for his glory as we serve those around us. And so it is with that renewed vigor that Julie and I are tackling each day, and each task as we press on to serve and love those who God has called us to minister to.

A few days ago we were cleaning out the closets and came across some things that have not been used in awhile. We got out some puzzles as we figured they could be good family activities for all ages. Just as we suspected, our young children and our boys have loved them. They have been taking turns throughout the day, and late into the evenings putting them together all over our kitchen table. It’s been very fun to watch. The other thing we got out of the closet were some refrigerator magnets of the alphabet. We plastered them all over the front of our fridge and assumed that at least our two youngest could entertain themselves. Much to our amazement nearly the whole household has gotten use out of them, making designs, writing the names of people in our family, and practicing spelling words – both in English and Spanish.

The other night Julie and I returned home later after being out and encountered a very special message that some of the boys had created for us. There on the fridge, spelled out in letter magnets was the following, “We love you mom and dad – thank you – by your boys”.

Our hearts were touched indeed. What a special thank you! So simple, yet so profound. It meant the world to us because as parents you long to hear it or see it in any form. But more than being just a message of thanks from our boys it was an encouragement from the Lord, “Do not tire of doing good.” I’m not sure he could have made it any clearer. Thank you Lord. May you continue to give us even more love to love, and more desire to serve those around us.

10.30.09 - Weary in Doing Good

Birthday Celebrations, by Mandy Lail, Back2Back Mexico Staff

October 21, 2009

In the past month, we’ve celebrated birthdays for three boys that live with us through the Back2Back Hope Program.  Birthday celebrations have been a sweet way to celebrate each boy individually by fixing food he wants and/or doing something that is just about him.   Being a part of a loving family is part of our process for seeing God bring healing and wholeness to each boy.

There is a tradition in Mexico called the “mordida.”  The person whose birthday it is takes a bite of the cake with their mouth and then friends/family push their face into the cake.  You can imagine that with five teen boys this tradition becomes a bit of a full-contact sport. Even normally TOO COOL teenagers love this tradition (as you can tell from the photos).

Homero's birthday cake

Homero's birthday cake

The guys before eating cake for Homero's birthday

The guys before eating cake for Homero's birthday

Cake on the face, a Mexican birthday tradition

Cake on the face (mordida), a Mexican birthday tradition

Harvest Time, by Juan Porto, Back2Back Mexico Staff

October 12, 2009

Two years ago we moved into a new home, The Joseph House.  This is one of the Hope Program homes on the Back2Back Mexico campus.

There is a big walnut tree in the garden outside our house.  It was in very bad shape –  dry and unhealthy.  There were construction materials like cement, gravel, and dirt all around the tree.  We thought that it might not survive, but we decided to be patient.  That second year, we spent time watering it, caring for it, hoping that it would survive and grow stronger.  But that year there was a big plague that killed all of its leaves.

This year was different.  We tried to remove all the worms’ nests from the plague.  We hoped the tree would make it but time passed and still the tree was barren.  Finally, new leaves began to grow and soon the tree had an abundance of beautiful leaves, even more than before the plague.  It was much healthier and stronger than before. We were not expecting fruits, but one day as I was cutting the grass around the trunk, I discovered fruit on the ground and I saw chipmunks eating the nuts that had fallen.

In that moment, I thought about hope and how I see evidence of it all around me.

For Oscar, a Hope Program student who recently graduated from college, there were probably many people who dismissed him, underestimating his potential to rise above a difficult past, a childhood in a children’s home.  Even at times, I felt frustrated during my journey with him once he left the children’s home and entered Back2Back’s Hope Program.  But now, after completing the Hope Program, he has hope, skills, opportunities and the ability to live a better life and change the future.

It’s time to harvest the first fruits.  Sometimes in the beginning, the fruit is not abundant, but we must remember just that – that it is only the beginning.  There is more to come.  If we continue pursuing God faithfully and diligently, we will see a harvest.

Since we had nursed that tree back to health and watched it grow, we were overjoyed as we watched it blossom and finally produce a harvest.  My daughters and I were very excited to try the first nuts.  That first tiny piece of pecan was like a delicacy in my mouth. Although there was nothing inherent in that pecan that made it better than pecans from any other tree, we enjoyed it so much more because we had been participants in the process.

Now, Oscar has graduated from culinary school and secured a great job in an upscale restaurant in the city.  Oscar’s manager has shared that he plans to promote him to the position of head chef soon. He appreciates Oscar’s commitment to excellence and quality.  Celebrating Oscar’s success feels similar to the joy I found watching the walnut tree blossom and later discovering and tasting its first fruits.

Thank you God for your perfect timing.

Oscar and Angel, two Hope Program students, who recently graduated from culinary school

Oscar and Angel, two Hope Program students, who recently graduated from culinary school

The One that Makes a Difference, by Cathy Huffer

October 8, 2009

Last week, I was talking with my neighbor, Norma, who lives near us  in Monterrey, Mexico.  She told me of the story of a teenage boy who stopped at her home to ask her where “the Americans” live.  Wanting to protect the privacy of the Back2Back American staff living nearby, she continued talking with him, attempting to find out his reason for wanting to find our campus.  She discovered that the boy was a classmate of one of the teens in the Back2Back Hope Program.  He was on his way to the Back2Back campus, so that they could work on homework together.

Our neighbor gave him directions.  After an hour, he returned.

“Did you find your friend?,” she asked him. “How did your study time go?”

This innocuous question led to a deeper conversation than Norma had anticipated.  He quickly divulged that when he first arrived at the Back2Back campus, he was carrying a lot of burdens.  But once he walked through our front gate, he said that he felt different, like something had been lifted from his shoulders.

Later, after Norma had relayed this story to me, she said, “You know, Cathy, I’ve felt something different there too.”

It was the perfect opportunity to share with her, that I thought that “something different” was the Holy Spirit.  It gave me a chance to talk with her about the abundant life that Jesus offers.

“We receive the Holy Spirit as a free gift when we ask Jesus to come into our lives,” I said.

She was intrigued but not quite ready to ask Jesus into her life.  Please pray with me that God would continue to draw her closer to Him and one day bring her to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, the one that makes a difference.

Norma (in the pink shirt) standing with her family

Norma (in the pink shirt) standing with her family

Mercy Living, by Antonio Garcia, Back2Back Mexico House Parent

October 5, 2009

Through the role of my wife and I as house parents to teens in Back2Back’s Hope Program, God is teaching us to see through His eyes and to understand how to accept those who are unacceptable to society. He is teaching us that his mercy and love is able to transform.

We have experienced God’s mercy in our lives when we receive God’s forgiveness when we do not deserve it. What he has given us is a desire to work with eight young girls who live in the Esther House. We have to be tolerant, firm, patient and extend mercy. We are enjoying God’s work and that he has given us the opportunity through the Back2Back Hope Program to be instruments for the process of sanctification in the girls’ lives. We are understanding that in some areas we are not going to achieve fruit immediately.

The girls leave with the concept that a life full of values is important. We have the mission to achieve in each girl the values of mercy that God has had for them.

Some of the Hope Program girls that live in the Esther House

Six of the eight Hope Program girls that live in the Esther House

2009 Hope Program students, including the girls that live in the Garcia's home through the program

2009 Hope Program students, including the girls that live in the Garcia's home through the program

Words from Home, by Mandy Lail

September 24, 2009

Recently I received a sweet message from home.  My good friend Angel sent me a picture of herself at Casa Hogar Douglas from 1987.  When JJ (my husband) and I decided to come on staff with Back2Back in Monterrey as house parents in the Hope Program, we had been friends with Angel & Shawn for six years. We had served together at Northstar Community Church in Loveland, Ohio and enjoyed their friendship. We were so blessed when they jumped on our support team right away.  Not long after, Angel told me about how she and Shawn had taken several summer mission trips to Monterrey during their high school years.  God had stirred their hearts for this city and they still felt the connection.  Several summers ago, they returned with their son on a mission trip when a group from Northstar traveled to Monterrey to serve with Back2Back.

Last September, when we arrived in Monterrey and began spending time at Casa Hogar Douglas, God broke my heart over that home and the children there.  Three of the boys in my home (Marcos, Mario & Gabriel) are from Casa Hogar Douglas and there are several more boys there that we have formed strong bonds with.  It is a special place for us. As I began to write about it on my blog and post pictures, Angel sent me a message explaining that on their mission trips from high school they would come to Casa Hogar Douglas, climb the hill and pray in the chapel.  They would pray over the children’s home and the whole city. I was so encouraged by the connection God had given us and how He has used Angel to remind me that He is at work in that home…and always has been.

I was feeling particularly discouraged recently but when I received this photo from Angel, God once again used her and her words to encourage me. The needs here feel overwhelming at times and often we can feel too small to make a difference.  But then we are reminded that we are not alone.  God has collected an army of folks here and at home to pray, to advocate and to fight for the orphan.  We are so thankful and so encouraged by all those who choose to invest with us in these casa hogars, these teens, these children.

Read these sweet words of encouragement from Angel to me: “I just re-read the scripture I sent to you in the other email and the last verse says faithfulness through all generations…in 1987 the kids that you minister to were not created yet. Yet the same power, the same love and faithfulness that God had for the kids that I met in 1987 carries through to this generation right now. And so the same power, the same love and faithfulness will carry on to the next generation. This is so much bigger than you or me…I prayed over the Douglas home at lunch and I do feel the war. Please be strong in the power of his might. He hears our prayers…He will answer them.

Thank you Angel for your encouragement.  Thank you to all those Back2Back supporters for all you do for the least of these. We are so thankful for each of you.

Psalm 100:5 For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Angel & Shawn at Casa Hogar Douglas in 1987

Angel & Shawn at Casa Hogar Douglas in 1987

Mandy's husband, JJ, playing soccer at Douglas in the same spot where Angel & Shawn took a photo in 1987

Mandy's husband, JJ, (far left) playing soccer at Douglas in the same spot where Angel & Shawn took a photo in 1987

Border Issues, by Kathy Couch

September 16, 2009

Living in a foreign country can have its drawbacks.  Especially one – the difficulty of crossing the border!  This experience is enough to make a grown man beg…. for papers… for entry…. for mercy.  Because, at that moment, the border immigration officers have ALL the power.  It seems there are rules, but no one really knows the rules.  This just makes it more fun.  My last experience with the border was fairly painless.  I thank the Lord for that.  But, it did make me think about border issues in my life.

After being in the states awhile and gazing into the television for way too many hours (because it “talked to me” in English), I thought of the border issues of my mind.  What am I allowing in without a fight?  What are my rules?  What do I give limited access too so that I can keep the pure mind that God called me to maintain?

It also reminded me of border issues in my mind.  If I am trying to die to myself daily, then I can’t be having conversations in my mind about my rights.  Rights to my own time, space, or wants.  I need to look outward instead of inward.  When people need my time or attention, my first thought should not be ‘me’!  It kind of spoiled me going home and having everyone think I was so great.  It filtered in through my brain and made me think I truly was something and some how deserved certain things.  So, there is another border issue.  To die or not to die.  To have the courage to die to myself, I have to stay plugged into the Word.  So that in dying to self, I am living in my spirit with Christ.

So with all the frustration of the border, I do have to thank them for making me think about the borders in my life.  I want to maintain the borders that keep me different from the world so that I can live my life as a witness to Jesus.  I had an interesting conversation with one of my boys who lives in our home through the Hope Program.  He shared with me that he thinks his teacher is a Christian.  His only proof is the man’s attitudes and actions.  What a testimony for an eighteen-year-old kid to notice there is a difference in your life! I want people to see that difference in me.  I want to talk about Jesus, but I also want to walk in a way that people see the difference and wonder why it is there!

Marathon, by Mandy Lail

September 4, 2009

This summer, I was often asked by mission trip guests, “What does a typical day look like in a Teen Home of the Hope Program?”

Wow, the best answer is actually…  “There is no typical day – each one is a new adventure!” As you can imagine, it’s semi-controlled chaos in a teen home on our Back2Back Mexico campus.  Days are full with households ranging in size from seven to sixteen! There are endless responsibilities and conversations for managing meals, chores, curfews, school enrollment, studying for exams, school supplies, friends, jobs and everything else that comes with raising teens (and staff kiddos, as well).

Cooking dinner with the boys

Cooking dinner with the boys

As a Teen Home parent, I often feel winded, like I just finished a sprint, but in reality it’s more of a marathon.  Many days will not hold a visible pivotal ministry moment.  Many days feel more like a chaotic dash of the never ending “stuff” to be done. But the precious reality of this ministry is the invested time – living life together.  Because we are here day in and day out, because we can be found in the kitchen or upstairs at all hours, because we sit and eat with them, because we are here…over time many of these students will allow us entrance into their tangle.

The lives of our teens are a tangle of old wounds, dysfunctional family connections, hopes and dreams for the future, and worries about the present.  It’s a mighty tangle.  But the beauty is that when we choose to entangle ourselves into their daily tangle, many begin to allow us more and more entrance into their lives.  And then, in those unplanned and unpredictable moments of living life together, God just might allow us to speak His truth to them and they just might listen.

This summer felt like a daily sprint with our summer schedule of visiting short-term mission groups and end-of-the-year activity at school for our boys.  I ended each day exhausted and often overwhelmed.  But now that it has passed, God has graciously reminded me that He was at work the whole time.  In the midst of that constant dash, I shared the gospel with Pablo late one night.  I spoke truth to Marcos about who he is and what God wants for him, after an issue at school.  I had a difficult but necessary conversation with Mario about his behavior and choices in life. I had multiple conversations with Homero about his decisions and who God has made him to be.  And I was able to answer Gabriel that yes, indeed, I would love to be the mother he never had.

None of these were planned moments. They happened in the car, at the kitchen table, and sitting at the lake, all because we have chosen to entangle ourselves in their tangles.  Up close, it feels like a sprint.  It’s tiring; it’s intense; and sometimes, even maddening.  But when we can step back and look at it like a marathon, it’s nothing short of miraculous.

Meeting the Parents, by Kelly Velasco

August 28, 2009

Our foster daughters through the Hope Program were not allowed to date during their first year living in our house. Of course, they all quickly agreed to this rule back in August 2008 and then fought for their “right to date” all year long. These beautiful girls, who range in age from thirteen to eighteen, are constantly being chased by boys.

Yessica, the oldest girl in Casa Esperanza, a Hope Program home on the Back2Back campus

Yessica, the oldest girl in Casa Esperanza, our Hope Program home on the Back2Back campus

Yessica is the oldest girl in our house and has been “getting to know” a certain “friend boy,” (who we have met and scrutinized). He invited Yessica to a family gathering, which would require us to meet his parents.  We put on our most “adult looking attire” and nervously left for our meeting. I asked my husband, Gabo, to please not embarrass her, reminding him that it wasn’t too many years ago that he was meeting my parents for the first time.  As we drove to their house, we prayed that they would understand our intentions. This was, after all, a first for us.

Yessica understands that we love her and want to protect her. We want to know that the people she hangs out with have her best interests in mind. We want Yessica to make good decisions, and honor the Lord. We want to do so much for her, and yet are reminded how limited we are. We can teach our children in the short time they are with us, but then we must trust their future to the Lord.

Meeting his family was great and we had peace that we had done the right thing. We left knowing that Yessica felt valued and special. As parents-to-be to Baby Velasco, we are learning how tough it is to let go of the future and of people we love. We want to hold them as tight as we can, and never let anything bad happen. We are grateful that our baby will have a jumpstart on knowing God’s love. Unfortunately, abandonment and abuse have robbed many of the girls in the Hope Program from feeling the security of God’s plan for them. We trust their hearts will heal and they will get in step with the amazing plan God has before them.

Well Worth the Investment, by Matt Cooper

August 17, 2009

An Afternoon with Edgar

I know what people are thinking.  Starbucks? What a waste of money.  Ok, not everyone.  Those who love cold coffee drinks would argue that it’s worth it.  The truth is a trip to Starbucks is not something that I make a habit of.  An opportunity to connect with one of our Hope Program students, however, is something that’s worth the investment.

A couple of weeks ago Edgar moved into our home.  He is seventeen and just two weeks into his college career.  He’s new to our program and is filled with questions.  The thing about most seventeen-year-old boys though is that it can be like pulling teeth to get them to verbalize their questions, and much more so their thoughts.

We’ve just come out of a very busy season here in Monterrey, and Edgar unfortunately moved in during the last couple weeks of that season.  The great news is that today Edgar and I had the chance to hang out together one-on-one.  I needed to drop off a student at school so that they could turn-in a summer project.  As I was about to run out the door, I shouted to Edgar, “Come on, I’m taking you out!”  He quickly grabbed his shoes and we were off.

After we dropped the other student at school, my only intention was to find some place for Edgar and I to sit and chat.  It had crossed my mind to find a café to grab a coke, or an ice cream shop, but we just happened across a quaint little Starbucks.  It was Edgar’s first visit and of course his first Venti Caramel Frappucino.  More importantly it was ninety minutes to connect on a personal level.  It was a chance to have a great conversation.  We talked about school and personal growth; we talked about my expectations for Edgar and about his aspirations; we talked about his adjustment to someplace new; and in the end we talked about God’s provision, God’s plan, and Edgar’s understanding of who God is.  I could not have been more pleased with the time.

The money spent at Starbucks was well worth the investment.  The fruit from that hour and a half invested in Edgar may not be fully realized this side of eternity, but I have a feeling that our conversation was a start to a great relationship.  I have a feeling it was a conversation and investment that is going to bring many great returns.

Edgar, the newest addition to the Hope Program's James House

Edgar, the newest addition to the Hope Program's James House

Shelter in Unexpected Forms, by Mandy Lail

July 22, 2009

This week I have been thinking about shelter in unexpected forms.  Take one of my boys, Homero, for example.  When Homero was twelve years old, he came to live at Manantial de Amor, one of the children’s homes in Monterrey.  He had gotten into a lot of trouble at various schools and even with the police.  His mother was at a loss at how to handle him.  A family member lived near Manantial de Amor, so his mother decided to take him there even though she lives two hours south by bus.  After three years at Manantial de Amor, Homero moved in with us to participate in the Hope Program with Back2Back.

Most of us find it difficult to understand how a mother can take her child to a children’s home.  And even more, we find it difficult to understand how God can shelter a child there.  How a life without their family, a life in a group home can be a form of shelter.  The reality is that for many of these kids a children’s home is a safer place than they came from.  It’s not perfect, sometimes not even pretty, but for many much safer. This can be a hard concept for us to understand.

But for me when I look at Homero . . . it is so clear how God has not only sheltered him but continues to pursue him.  Living at Manantial de Amor removed him from a dangerous path he was on.  He was making bad decision after bad decision and thankfully his mother intervened.  If she hadn’t, I think he would likely be in jail. God provided not only physical shelter, not only removed him from a dangerous path but provided Homero spiritual shelter.  Through the spiritual influence of the director Edgar, Homero started a relationship with Jesus while living at Manantial.  And now he lives with us where he has the opportunity to receive a solid education and spiritual influence, while experiencing family life.

Recently we had to tell Homero “no” when he asked to visit his hometown over the weekend.  He had been back several times in the previous months and we were becoming more and more concerned with his trips there.  From what information we could gather after the fact, he was making questionable decisions again, hanging out with his old crowd and spending little time with his mother while there.  At his last request we both felt super uneasy about the prospect and decided to not let him go.  He handled it well and even seemed relieved.  Later he told us that he had thought God didn’t want him to go.

About two weeks later, his mother showed up unexpectedly.   When she asked to speak privately with us, we were concerned she was angry we had not let Homero visit.  Instead, through tears, she asked us to not let him visit his hometown any more.  She too was concerned about his visits and decisions.  She knew it meant she would see him less, but she was willing to sacrifice her time with him to ensure he stayed on his current path.  She knows what opportunities he has here at Back2Back and she wants him to compromise them.

To me it’s so clear.  God has sheltered Homero over and over again; through a children’s home, through Back2Back and especially through his mother.  Many would look at her and judge her inability to parent.  I look at her and see a woman who is fighting for her son the only way she knows how. It’s unexpected, it’s not what I would have picked but it is so clearly God’s shelter for my foster son.  And I am thankful.

Homero with his mom at graduation

Homero with his mom at graduation

Running the Race Together, by Matt Cooper

July 20, 2009

At the beginning of this year I decided that I wanted to take my running to a new level.  I’m still what most would call novice, but I decided that I wanted to run some local 10K races, that I wanted to run a half marathon, and that ultimately I wanted to run a full marathon before the end of 2009.  Perhaps even greater than my desire to run these races was my desire for others to run with me.  I’ve realized, that for people like me it’s really ultimately about bringing others alongside what I’m doing.  I don’t really like to do things alone.  Relationships and encouraging others are my heart, and they are the key motivator for why I do what I do.  So when it comes to “doing life” there are few things more energizing than being a part of a team.  When we learn to do life together the spiritual lessons and implications are endless – and let’s face it, most things in life are just more fun when you’re doing them with others.

So this Spring, I began to try to encourage the boys in my home, other students in our program, and others on our campus to join me in running a half marathon at the end of April.  In the beginning there was some scattered desire to run with me, but when April came many lost interest, or gave in to the fear of what seemed like a lofty goal of running 13.1 miles.  In the end I was only joined by fellow house parent Tim Couch, and by one of our college students from the Hope Program, Antonio.  It was an amazing experience for the three of us to face what seemed to be a “giant” and to conquer it.  I loved the chance the reach one of my personal goals, but at the same time I still felt unsatisfied that more from our Back2Back community had not joined us.

This summer I had the chance to be a part of a fantastic 10K that was put on here in Monterrey.  Not only did I run the race, but eleven others ran with me in what was the first official Team Back2Back!  This time Tim and I were joined by Mauricio from our staff team, two summer interns and seven young men from our Hope Program.

What we great victory we experienced together.   For me, my immense joy wasn’t so much from completing the race, but it was more so from running the race as part of a team.  There was an excitement that built as we took pictures, warmed up, and gathered at the starting line together.  There was an anticipation as we looked for one another along they way, and took the time to give a shout of encouragement.  There was a mental boost that came from being able to run portions of the race alongside someone that you consider to be like family.  In the end there was a great satisfaction in seeing each one cross the finish line, congratulate each other, and together celebrate “our victory”.

1st row: Ruben, Leo, Cesar, Antonio 2nd row: Oscar, Omar, Tim, Homero, Mauricio, Matt, Shawn, Abby

1st row: Ruben, Leo, Cesar, Antonio 2nd row: Oscar, Omar, Tim, Homero, Mauricio, Matt, Shawn, Abby

Makeshift Shelter, by Mandy Lail

June 17, 2009

We recently took our boys to a nearby lake for some fishing where I happened to capture this photo of Leo.  Leo lives with the Cooper Family in the James House as a part of The Hope Program.  Just like my boys he is getting ready to graduate from Secundaria (middle school) and will start Prepa (high school) in the fall.  When I look at this photo I can’t help but think about my boys, in fact all the students in the Hope Program.  To me this photo represents this season of their lives.

 

Leo on the fishing trip with the Lails

Leo on the fishing trip

 

Leo is standing on a rickety dock about fifty feet from shore.  Overhead is a makeshift covering.  Nothing fancy but it protects the two boats underneath from the occasional rain and the intense sun exposure. This is where our students stand: on a rickety dock with some makeshift shelter overhead.  It’s not the best they could have, but it is some shelter.  And what lies ahead of them is a like a lake and a series of mountains.  I think it’s a mix of emotions for them.  All they know is this makeshift dock and for some it’s even better shelter from where they’ve come.  But it’s all they know.

I wonder . . . do they have a sense of longing when they see those mountains?  Do they think I could have that, I can go there. I can leave this rickety old dock and scale a mountain? Truly I think they have more fear. They believe the lies they’ve heard or told themselves I can’t do it.  I don’t have what it takes.  I should just stay here. I think they look with a sense of longing for something more but it’s often overtaken with a sense of sadness and defeat.  They think I want it, but I can’t do it.

This summer our theme is SHELTER.  Would you join us in praying for our students in the Hope Program?  Please pray that God would show Himself to them and that they would have hope.  In the Hope Program they are given opportunities through education but for many it seems like that far off mountain is unreachable or unattainable.  Pray for their journeys as they learn how to step away from the hurts of their past and stop believing that they have nothing to contribute. Please pray for their courage to step out from their old, rickety, makeshift shelters and find true shelter in Him.

 

 

Food for a Day, by Matt Cooper

June 9, 2009

If you have a family you likely know the reality of living on a budget.  You know how much you spend on utilities, on gasoline, and how much you’ll spend on groceries for the month.  But have you ever figured out how much money it takes to feed yourself or each of your children for one day?

Here in Back2Back’s Hope Program, we too of course live on a budget.  As teen home parents of the James House my wife, Julie, and I have the challenging job of feeding eight teenage boys.  With the budget we’re allotted each month, we can spend about $4 (US) a day on each of our boys for their food.  If you have teenage boys…you know THEY CAN EAT, and you know that $4 suddenly doesn’t sound like very much money.  Our boys like to eat, and they like to eat a lot, but with as much as they enjoy eating, it certainly does not mean that they are always grateful for what we have to eat, nor do they always appreciate the value of what it is they’re consuming.

Recently, after a series of days filled with what I felt to be insensitive comments about what there was to eat and drink in the house, and after a general disrespect for some of our kitchen rules I decided it was time for a lesson.

So, just before bedtime I set all eight boys down for a few quick comments about respect for authority, and gratefulness for what we have – and then I handed them each $4.  I explained that they could use any of their personal money they wanted, but that for the next 24 hours this was all we were contributing towards their food.  I graciously gave them the option of eating at school, at local street vendors, at 7-Eleven, or wherever they pleased – but if they wanted to eat the food in our house they would have to “buy it” from us.  The looks on their faces were priceless – they all immediately “got it”.  I almost think I could have stopped the lesson right there, and had them hand their money back in…but I think they would have missed a large part of the lesson.  The next 24 hours were no doubt long for them as they had to think about budgeting, and stretching their $4 to make it last all the way through dinner – but I honestly think the larger lesson was on gratefulness and appreciation.  A lesson I hope and pray they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Marcos with his $4 for the day

Marcos with his $4 for the day