Posts Tagged ‘hope’

David’s Journey, by Matt Cooper, Back2Back Cancun

January 27, 2012

David

Last December I wrote about a boy named David. Fifteen, no desire to work, or study, or follow rules…and you can guess where that got him. David had a lot of things going on – both inside and out. He has lived at the children’s home since before he could walk. The only family he has ever known is his older brother, and the directors of that home. For lots of reasons, it is no wonder that his life might look a little messy, yet even in the midst of all that, God was giving me just a glimpse of the potential that was inside this boy. I knew that God had a lot more up his sleeve for this young man.

What I didn’t know, but could have guessed is that life would get worse for David before it got better. I did have a few chances to hang out with David in the winter and spring. We invited him to join in with us a couple different days when we had visiting missions teams, and he came along as a volunteer for the day. He was pleasant, helpful, fairly quiet. One morning I grabbed him and sat down beside him while the visiting team was having their quiet time and I read Psalm 139 to him. I told him it was one of my favorite places to re-visit in the scriptures, and how I loved how full it was of truths about God…how He knit us together in our mothers wombs, how He knows us, how He is always with us…and the list goes on.
David was pretty quiet that morning. He grinned at me. Sort of chuckled to himself and said, “I don’t really believe all of that”. “You know what,” I told him, “It’s O.K. – God loves that you can even be honest and say that aloud. He (God) really is all of those things…all of those things are true of him, and He will show you. I know He will.”
About a month later David left the children’s home He lived the next six or seven months on his own, in a tiny cave-of-a-room with a mattress in it. He hit some real lows. And somewhere in the lowest of low places I think David started to believe that there just might be something to “this God” and what this God had for his life.

As the months went by we knew little of David. But thanks to the modern wonder that facebook is to all of us, from time to time I was able to shoot him a message, and let him know we were praying…but that was about it. But rarely would I hear anything back. And then, all of a sudden, in mid to late November David initiated chatting with me via Facebook one evening.

“I want out,” he said.
“Out of what,” I asked?
“Out of my life. I don’t want to live like this anymore, I want out,” he said.
“Let’s figure out when we can get together,” I replied. I suggested he meet us Sunday morning, come to church with us, and we can spend the afternoon together, but Sunday came and went. We didn’t hear anything from him, and then, well then we got busy with a visiting group of 20-some women here from Ohio bringing Christmas cheer to Cancun.
So, Wednesday, November 30th rolls around. It had been a long day. It was about 11:30 p.m. We had just begun to drift off to sleep when the security from our neighborhood called to say there was a teenage boy at the gate looking for me.
“It’s David,” I exclaimed to Julie.
“Well, have him come in and sleep on the couch and we can talk more tomorrow,” says my compassionate wife, Julie.
And so I walked to the gate, and escorted him to our house. I got the feeling he was already planning on staying as he immediately took off his shoes and socks.
“What do you need – what can I do for you?,” I asked him.
“I want to change. I want to be different. I want to go back to school. I don’t want my life to go on the way it is,” he replied.
“We can help you find a place to live, and we can help you get back in school, and we can help you get pointed in the right direction, but you have to understand that what you need more than anything right now is God. Do you understand that? Can you see that?,” I asked.
“Yes, I know. And I’m ready,” replied David.

In the morning I remember waking up and thinking. Yep, it’s true, it’s not a dream. David showed up at our house last night, and he’s sleeping on the couch. Why now God? We have 20-some women here for the rest of the week, don’t I have enough going on right now? How will I have the time necessary to devote to him today. Silly me, I should have known that God already had that all figured out.

As God’s schedule would have it, that morning had been carved out for the women to have their quiet times with the Lord, and their small groups at a local beach before we headed out to serve for the day.
So, arriving at the beach, David and I plopped down in the sand next to each other, and I began to talk. We talked more about where he’d just come from, and what he wanted to happen, and then I told him very clearly: “You already told me that you know you need God. It is time to decided where you stand with this. It is time to confront any doubts and any questions. Today is the day of salvation. It is time to make a decision. This is not about dipping your toes in the water, and dabbling into a little bit of who God is, and who Jesus is for you – this is about throwing your whole self into the ocean of God, David. Today is the day, are you ready?”
And David said, “Yes. Yes, I’m ready.”
Right there, and right then David and I prayed together, and he gave his life over to Jesus. It was one of those surreal moments, witnessing God do what He does, and yet being right there in the midst of the whole thing – what a gift. Our Cancun staff team, as well as the other visiting staff from Ohio and Monterrey then gathered around David, and spent the next moments bathing him in prayer, praying for his protection, praying for what is to follow – and entrusting the days that are to come into the hands of God.
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Promoting Literacy, by Hope Maglich Garcia, Back2Back Mexico Staff

January 13, 2012

A few months ago, I was hanging out with a few girls in the Rio, an impoverished Mexican community that Back2Back serves. We serve these families, mostly single moms, because they are literally at the cusp of making the difficult decision of whether or not they will choose to place their child in one of the children’s homes.  Our goal is to help them to provide for their children’s basic needs, preventing them from reaching the point where they need to drop off their children at one of the homes.

 

At one point, my conversation with the girls turned to the topic of reading. I asked them if they ever get read to at home. They both said no.  I knew both the girls had several books in their home, because I had brought them out in a donation. I asked the girls where they books were and they said “on the shelf.” I praised them for this, because taking care of items in the Rio is not always a priority. We had a conversation when I first brought the books out about where to keep them and how to care for them. So I was pleased to see that they had done this. However, when I asked how many books the girls had read that week the answer was, zero. When I asked why, they reported that they weren’t allowed to take them down from the shelf because their grandmother knew I was going to come by and she didn’t want to take a chance that the books would be ruined before my next visit.

 

I sighed internally as I realized that this family didn’t understand the reason for the books. I remembered the library programs that I participated in as a child growing up in Oxford, Ohio. Almost every summer we would set reading goals and earn prizes for the books that we read… I wondered if Sara and Monse needed a little motivation like I did when I was little. I asked for a scrap of paper and scrawled out a one week reading chart for the girls. “Try to see if you can read one book a day or if your grandmother can read one book a day to you for the next week,” I said. For added motivation I let the girls borrow some of the children’s books I had with me in my car. “Next week when I come, show me what you have read and you can borrow some more books.” I then talked to their grandmother to make sure she understood that the books were for the girls to read, regardless of whether or not they got messed up.

 

The next week I drove up to Sara and Monse’s house and was greeted by the girls proudly standing outside holding up their reading charts. “We did it every day!” They shouted. Each girl got to pick a lollypop as a prize then we sat down to talk about the experience and to read a book out loud together. It was wonderful!

 

The next week even more kids showed up and the same thing happened the week after. I now have about six consistent students every week! I set up a very basic library system, where the kids can check out and return books. The best part is that the kids are reading or being read to and that there are books entering their homes. I’ve even noticed some of the teenage boys standing at a distance where they can hear the story I’m reading to the children yet still look cool! They were only given away when they too started laughing at the funny parts.

Children in the Rio are excited to be a part of Back2Back's new literacy program.

I have several Christian books and some children’s Bibles that I let the kids borrow. Sara told me one day that her grandmother loves the Children’s Bible best of all.She reads it everyday to her granddaughters. Yajiara borrowed a Max Lucado book one week that illustrated the story of our Heavenly Father’s love for us. She said that her mom started reading it and loved the story. Her mother read it over and over several times that week.

 

I’m excited to see where this literacy program goes! Two months later and the kids are still excited about reading.  I can already see that he kids are enjoying reading and that their parents are being influenced too. Compared to when we first started, the children are now very engaged in the stories I read aloud. They are making their own predictions and making connections to the text… two very important skills for readers to know. I also love to see them being responsible for the books they check out. We have only misplaced a few! They have read most of the books in my collection and I am in need of more!

The children select the books they want to borrow for the week.

Monse, Sarah and Alondra read together.

Yajaira reads to Daniel.

Please keep us in your prayers! Pray for the kids’ enthusiasm to continue to grow as they discover the joy of reading. Pray for the ones who struggle with reading to continue learning. Pray for parents to continue to be on my team with this. Pray for more children’s books in Spanish. Pray for me to have wisdom to know how to teach and encourage these kids.

Give a gift of hope this Christmas!

December 12, 2011

This Christmas, give a gift of hope to an orphan in need. Choose from dozens of items in our gift catalog to help the children that Back2Back serves in Mexico, Nigeria and India! Your gift will bring hope to an orphan this Christmas.

View it here.

Give a gift of hope this Christmas!

November 14, 2011

This Christmas, give a gift of hope to an orphan in need. Choose from dozens of items in our gift catalog to help the children that Back2Back serves in Mexico, Nigeria and India! Your gift will bring hope to an orphan this Christmas.

Look for the gift catalog in the mail this month or you can view it here.

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.

Peeling an Onion, by Mindy Webster, Back2Back Mexico Staff

May 3, 2011

Last week, in our ongoing staff training, we talked about the connection between anger and fear.  The short of it is that most anger is rooted in fear.  Think of anger as a basket of onions.  Anger is that outer onion skin that makes the onion messy and dull but protects the insides.  When you peel off that onion skin of anger, what’s left are layers of fears, like the layers of an onion.  Often, our anger is rooted in a variety of fears.  But if we go deeper and ask God to help us deal with our real root fears, God can take them away and that onion isn’t there anymore.

Juan, one of our house parents, shared with me the impact this made on one of our teen girls in the Hope Program.  She didn’t want to speak English to a visiting group member, even though her English is actually very good.  She said she felt embarrassed to speak English around people.  Juan, armed with this new knowledge and sensitive to a nudge from God that there was more, asked her what she was afraid of.  She shared that she was afraid to make a mistake.  Juan explained to her the onion analogy and said he felt that was a surface fear.  After more discussion, she discovered that deep down inside she is really afraid of being rejected.

She was dropped off in a children’s home at age two, and felt that she must have done something horribly wrong for her mom to reject her.  All her life she’s worked to make sure she’s not rejected again.  She gets good grades in school and does her chores and tries to make everyone around her feel good.  Juan and his wife took the opportunity to share the truth of the Gospel with her, that Jesus never rejects us.  They prayed together and through lots of tears she expressed that it was the first time she felt like she understood what was going on inside of her.  She could see all of the ways in her life that she was working to not be rejected by people, but what she already has is a Heavenly Father who will never leave her.  What incredible hope!  When she stopped looking at the onion skin and looked inside, God’s truth could be revealed and the process of removing that struggle has begun.

The Carrot Seed, by Hope Maglich, Back2Back Mexico Staff

March 29, 2011

The Carrot Seed

” A little boy planted a carrot seed… and the whole world said nothing would sprout.” – The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss

For the majority of the children I work with in the Rio the whole world has said they won’t succeed, they won’t thrive, they won’t amount to anything,… they won’t sprout. That is sadly the story of two girls, Sarah and Monse. They come from rough situations and unsupportive environments where they have been told, they won’t “sprout.”

I went to the Rio about a week ago with my tutoring supplies in hand. I hadn’t ever tutored kids in Spanish before, but thought it couldn’t be that much different than the experiences I had tutoring in the States. The three of us girls sat down in the comedor and I pulled out a supply of books that I had with me. The girls looked through the stack and then we all decided on The Carrot Seed (La Semilla de Zanahoria). As an early childhood teacher, I am ashamed to say that I had never read this book before! We cracked open the book and began to read about the boy, the seed, and the disbelief of the world around him.

“His mom said, ‘I fear it won’t sprout.’

His dad said, ‘I fear it won’t sprout.’

His older brother said, ‘ I know it won’t sprout.’ ”

I asked the girls how the boy must have felt. They said he felt sad and discouraged. I asked them if they ever felt like that, or if anyone ever said those types of things to them. They both nodded and we kept reading.

“Every day the boy pulled up the weeds that were growing around the seed and sprayed the soil with water. But nothing sprouted… And nothing sprouted… The whole world said that nothing would sprout.”

“Have you ever felt like the whole world is saying you won’t grow and change and that you can’t do the things you want to when you grow up?” I asked. Again there were silent nods.

“But every day he continued to pull up the weeds and spray the soil with water. And then, one day,… a carrot sprouted…. Just as the boy knew it would.”

The girl’s faces were delighted as we got to the last page! “We knew it would sprout!” they said. “and the carrot is HUGE!”

The picture on this page is priceless. The boy in the story has a wheelbarrow and one huge carrot inside. Not only did the carrot sprout, it was much bigger and better than any normal carrot.

We closed the book and began to talk about how we are like carrot seeds. That sometimes people will say to us, “You won’t sprout… you will never be good at math, you will never amount to anything, you can’t be a doctor, you can never leave this place…” But what did the boy do? I asked.

“He kept working hard.” Was the answer. “He didn’t give up because he knew the carrot seed would sprout.”

“Hmm,” I said, “what do you think we can learn from this story?”

Sarita replied, “That if we work hard and don’t give up, one day the seed will sprout.”

“Good,” I replied. “But there is more than that.”  I went on to explain to the girls that God created them with a purpose. That He has a plan for their lives. That it wasn’t an accident that they were born onto this earth. “It may seem like the whole world is against you,” I said. ” Your mom, your dad, or your teacher may be against you, but God is always for you. He know the plans and the purpose and the future that He has for you. You are special. You are unique, you are dearly loved, and you will sprout.”

The truth is that God believes in these girls and supports them. He is pulling up the weeds in their lives and He is faithful to put water on the soil of their hearts. The whole world may say, “they won’t sprout.”  But God says otherwise….

“I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

And when God sprouts a seed….watch out! It is bigger and better than anything we can imagine!

Sarah and Monse drawing pictures of themselves planting a seed and then the seed sprouting.

Sarah and Monse with their finished stories.

His Promises, by Jim Betscher, Back2Back Mexico Staff

September 1, 2010

Douglas Children's Home

Yesterday, a mom brought three sisters, to Casa Hogar Douglas (Douglas Children’s Home), an orphanage that Back2Back serves. She wants to drop them off at the children’s home because she thinks she cannot take care of them. I’m not sure that the girls even realize yet what is about to happen to them.

My wife, Betty, talked to their mom and took down all of their information, as she helps the home handle the intake of new children.  She sent them back home and told them that we would be in contact with them. The truth is that they will likely be the newest residents of this children’s home in a few days. I have witnessed scenes like this one numerous times in the last few years. Betty has been the person who has “interviewed” the moms and “admitted” the unwanted children into Casa Hogar Douglas, for two years now.

These young girls’ story is all too familiar. Mom has lived with their father for several years, but not been married. Now that he has left them, she has no education, job or money. The only relative that is willing to help her is her sister and she doesn’t have room for all of them. So, the children are dropped off at the children’s home, while mom “rebuilds” her life.

It’s times like this that my heart is heavy. So many thoughts and questions fill my mind sometimes. I really never dreamed that this period of my life would be spent in a battlefield. I think I always envisioned a more peaceful way that I would be spending these years. But really, I couldn’t be happier doing anything else! God knows exactly what I need and always provides. And, I know that God will provide for not only these young girls, but for all the other children in all the other parts of the world that Back2Back serves in. He has promised to do so in His Word! (Matt. 19:14)

I really want to take a moment to thank all of you that lift us up in prayer, support us financially or have come to personally serve alongside of us. As difficult as some of these situations are, I believe their is joy in knowing we are the ones God is using to demonstrate His Love for these children! All of you who support us in so many ways are being used by God also. (James 1:27)

A New Year, by Jim Betscher, Back2Back Mexico staff

January 20, 2010

I have some random reflective thoughts as we begin not only a new year, but a new decade. I’ll confess that I have thought a lot lately about the injustices that I witness in this world. I have prayed for God to show up and change people or circumstances that I know are not part of His will. It has been difficult to accept that all is not going to be perfect in this world. I can’t just “work at something hard enough” that it changes. I believe God is calling us to be faithful even when things don’t ALL go right. I’m reminded of the numerous times in the Bible when God’s people were called to be faithful, even when things were not going their way.

I also am reminded that I am not perfect…not even close. My friends aren’t perfect; my family isn’t perfect; my co-workers aren’t perfect. The only one who is perfect is God. Then why do I question Him? Is it part of my imperfection that I think I am wiser than Him? I am messed up! We all are! The best that we can hope for is that we can work for improvement in our lives. And, in the end, be forgiven of our failures by the grace that is available through God’s only son, Jesus. We all need it!

So, as I start this New Year, I want to keep praying and working for the injustices that I witness, to be made right. But I want to also remember, that everything will never be completely perfect. I must learn to be faithful to God’s calling in my life, even when it seems my efforts are futile. I also want to remember that we are all imperfect beings and that the same blood of Jesus that is needed to wash away others’ sins is needed to wash away my sins.

Many times, I take comfort in situations when I can think of scripture that brings me peace in the middle of a storm. I want to take the time to reflect more on God’s word. I also want to pray more. Instead of worrying or being frustrated over things that I can’t change, I want to just share my heart with God and rest knowing that He is in control of everything!

Happy New Year everyone! I really believe “greater things are yet to be done!”

All in All, by Jessica Biondo, Back2Back Mexico Staff

December 18, 2009

Days like today, when I have had a lot of time for reflection, I feel a pull in my spirit to do more. The need is so great and there are so many kids out there that need to be loved- showered with the love of their Heavenly Father! While I feel confident that I am where the Lord wants me to be right now, I also believe that he is using this time in mighty ways to prepare my heart for what is yet to come.

I sit here in the glow of my Christmas tree and sip a glass of punche (a delightfully warm and delicious Mexican holiday drink) and I am struck by how gentle God is with me! He knows my struggle of a love for creature comforts and he is ever so gently pruning me of the selfish desires of my heart. Even as I sit here in a time of prayer, I am being changed. Strengthened.  Prepared. The things of this world are losing their shine and my heart feels like it could burst with joy as my vision becomes free of worldly distractions. As much as I love the soft flicker of a candle and my cozy down comforter and my colorful mixing bowls, I am no longer afraid to live without these kinds of things.

How kind God is to give me this time to learn these lessons before I am living in a situation where creature comforts are not even an option. How kind God is to draw me to him and show me that without the things of this world I still have strength, courage, hope, joy and peace. But that without Him I would have nothing, I would be nothing. Without the things of this world I am still the woman that I was created to be, I still have a purpose, a passion and a calling. Without God I would have nothing. No passion. No purpose greater than myself. No joy. No hope. Praise God for teaching me this! This is one of those lessons that my mind has always known, but my heart has finally understood the depth of meaning behind these words. The song “All in All” has come to my mind…

You were my strength when I was weak

You are the treasure that I seek

You are my all in all

When I am down you pick me up

When I am dry you fill my cup

You are my all in all

Seeking you as a precious jewel

Lord to give up I’d be a fool

You are my ALL IN ALL

I have sung those words hundreds of times and yet today I am struck anew by the meaning of them. These words define me because God defines me. People and things will come and go in my life but that will never chance who God is and who I am in Him!

I came here to try and change the world one orphan at a time and I am the one who is being changed.  Praise the Lord!

With a few of the children we serve in the Rio community

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.

Crazy Love, by Claire Rogers

July 15, 2009

This summer the Back2Back staff is reading Crazy Love, by Francis Chan.  Chan urges readers to resist the temptation to be satisfied with the status quo and instead respond to God’s invitation into a passionate love relationship.  He challenges readers with a call to forsake complacency and apathy and follow God wholeheartedly.

Crazy Love

Here is an excerpt from Chan’s book that I found to be particularly impactful (pages 93-94):

“As Tim Zizziar said, “Our greatest fear as individuals and as a church should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”  . . . God’s definition of what matters is pretty straightforward.  He measures our lives by how we love.  In our culture, even if a pastor doesn’t actually love people, he can still be considered successful as long as he is a gifted speaker, makes his congregation laugh, or prays for “all those poor, suffering people in the world” on Sunday.

But Paul writes that even if “I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2-3 ESV).  Wow.  Those are strong and unmistakable words.  According to God, we are here to love.  Not much else really matters.

So God assesses our lives based on how we love. But the word love is so overused and worn out.  What does God mean by love?  He tells us,

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends . . . faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

–   1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13 ESV

But even those words have grown tired and overly familiar, haven’t they?  I was challenged to do a little exercise with these verses, one that was profoundly convicting.  Take the phrase Love is patient and substitute your name for the word love.  (For me, “Francis is patient . . . “) Do it for every phrase in the passage.  By the end, don’t you feel like a liar?  If I am meant to represent what love is, then I often fail to love people well.

Following Christ isn’t something that can be done halfheartedly or on the side.  It is not a label we can display when it is useful.  It must be central to everything we do and are.”

As a staff, that is our challenge as we provide care to orphans.  Our call is to not just offer clothing and shelter to children in need.  Our mission is to meet the needs of the orphan, both spiritual and material, out of the overflow of Christ’s love in our hearts.  Love must be our motivation and at the core of everything we do.

God calls us to wholehearted faith characterized by love.  That is the mark of the Christian faith and our prayer and hope is that it permeates through every fiber of our ministry.  Our organization is rooted in Christ’s mandate to love sacrificially.  In 1 John 3:16-20, we see God’s compassion for the poor through the example of Christ’s love manifesting itself through His willingness to surrender everything, even his very life.

Crazy Love has encouraged us as a ministry, but it has also prompted me to examine my own heart for any areas of my life where I have become complacent.  Chan’s exercise was especially powerful. As I replaced the word love with my name, I was convicted of ways in which I haven’t allowed Christ’s generous love to reveal itself through my actions, often because of fear or complacency.  His kindness and merciful love should compel me to pursue a deeper relationship with Him and likewise love those around me radically, laying at His feet anything that is hindering me.

What attitudes or areas of your life might God be asking you to surrender to Him so that you might love more radically?  What is holding you back?

Eyes Wide Open, by Hannah Cesler, Back2Back India Summer Intern

July 10, 2009

My first week interning with Back2Back India has opened my eyes. There is no way I could have been fully prepared for my initial visit to this hostel (children’s home) in rural India. I was a little nervous when we pulled up, but was instantly comforted by familiar verses painted on the walls in English and the native language, Telegu.

One of the girls in the children's home helping with meal prep

One of the girls in the children's home helping with meal prep

Upon arrival, I was given a tour of the girl’s dorm. Each room (equivalent to the size of my bedroom) is meant to house eight girls. Since the children are used to sleeping on the ground, they are somewhat able to fit in these rooms.  Some older girls came to greet us and they asked me to lead them in the song, “If you’re happy and you know it” which the kids knew even better than I did! I was especially amazed by the sanctuary. It was clean, open and bright—it made me happy to know these kids were getting the best when they were worshipping Jesus.

After we explored the girl’s side of the hostel, we went to check out a new project being started to expand the boy’s dorm. Seeing the method of construction blew my mind–hundreds of sticks were used to support the building while construction continued right on! Twice as many men were working on the building than were needed. Due to the low labor wages in India, this is not an unusual occurrence. I was just starting to pick up on the inefficiency behind a lot of what goes on in India!

Construction Workers in India

Construction Project in India

We stumbled into some of the bathrooms on the boy’s side. They looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in years and the smell was something no child should have to face every day. Apparently, this kind of cleaning is meant only for the lowest of workers in India; therefore, a bathroom will be left filthy before anyone would voluntarily take care of these duties. I started to get overwhelmed and frustrated at the reality of how much there was to do and how much I didn’t understand about this country.

It was the first day of the new school year and it seemed a bit strange to only see a couple boys running around. The classrooms were empty, both of people and of any sort of wall décor. We talked with one of the teachers who informed us that the kids take several weeks getting back to school. For those that return on time, the month of June is a bit slow as government schools typically prolong starting school until the majority of kids have returned. We learned of the efforts to fund the teachers and the cost of buying enough books for the children. It astounded me to learn that it would only take about $100/month to finance a teacher and $3/year to provide each student their textbooks!

Following the tour, we were invited into the director’s home where we were served mangoes and authentic Indian food. It was evident the difficulties due to lack of funding are only the beginning. Several factors play a role that are not so easy for the American mind to fully understand. With the majority of India being Hindu, many people find the significance of “fate” very important. In other words, if a child is orphaned or disabled, they believe it is their fate and therefore people do not feel obligated to help them. Poverty is rampant, women face oppression on a daily basis, and the people look to false gods for answers. In the Christian community, however, there is hope.

At this hostel, so many difficulties these children would be facing on the street are being avoided. With a little support these children can receive even more attention–a better education, improved facilities and the spiritual care they need to go on to do great things.

While the poor situation at this hostel was disturbing to me, I am hopeful with the direction and support of Back2Back, paired with the love of Jesus in these workers’ hearts–this place can transform! Once I got past my initial frustrations and focused on the numerous projects on the horizon, it’s easy to understand why Back2Back is called to be in India. I truly cannot wait to see what God has in mind for this hostel, the future of these children, and India!

The Gift of Hope, by Angela Ramos

June 6, 2009

This week, Chris Ramos, Back2Back Director of Missions, is heading off to Jos, Nigeria with his wife, Angie and their three sons.  For three months, they will be staying at the Back2Back Nigeria base and serving in the local community.  As they prepare to leave, Angie reflects on her first visit to Nigeria, nearly three years ago when she and her husband Chris served alongside Back2Back missionaries, Jason and Emilee Munafo.  Continue reading to discover how Angie experienced hope in a fresh way.

It was October of 2006 and we were mid-way through our stay in Jos, Nigeria.  I sat on the floor of the place where we were staying and I looked at the four of us Americans sitting there.  I was overwhelmed and scared and feeling sick to my stomach.  The need there is so great and so many were depending on us to help them.  I thought to myself, how? How is this all going to fall into place?  How is God going to make this all happen through Chris and me and Jason and Emilee?

I remember feeling so small and powerless and what was before us was so big.  I knew there would be so much work that needed to be done when we got back to the US and in my sense of panic, I felt like there wasn’t much time.  My mind was spinning with so many different thoughts.  I knew right then that God was going to stretch our faith and we were going to grow and learn to depend on the Lord more than we had thought.  With so many people there looking to us for help, part of me wanted to just turn around and go back and say forget it, it’s too much.

Later that week we were at the village telling everyone good-bye and reminding them that we would be back soon.  Word that we were there spread so quickly, that by the time we were getting back into our car to go to the airport, we were informed that Ikira, the “agricultural guy” of the village of 1,000 people, contracted typhoid.  Ikira had showed us the village a few days before.  He walked us around the place.  We had spent several hours with him and many of the villagers that day.  Now, he was very sick and needed money for medicine.  He thought if he could just let us know that he was sick, that we would be able to help.  Not really knowing what we could do at this point, we asked one of the villagers to help us.  Minutes later the three of us were getting into the car and the villager was directing us to the medical facility where Ikira was staying.

We walked into the dirty hut-like building not knowing what to expect.  From the outside, it looked like an old condemned building.  It was dark and very small.  My bathroom medicine cabinet probably had more supplies in it than this place.  There was a women sitting on a cot holding her very sick baby.  Ikira was lying on another cot, hooked up to an IV.  When Ikira saw us he sat up and smiled.  He had hope.  We had felt so helpless, but despite that when Ikira looked at us he had hope.

Looking back at that moment, it all seems so clear to me now.  It’s as if I am experiencing that moment all over again.  HOPE.  That’s what we bring through Christ.  How could I turn back and say “forget it”? God has a plan and that plan involves us.  As we reach out our hand to help others, it’s really God’s hand reaching out.  It was really God’s feet that walked into that medical building to check on Ikira, not mine.  He reaches when we reach out and He steps when we step.  God loves the Nigerians we’re serving (John 3:16) and has a plan of hope that involves Chris and me (and our boys).  It involves everyone who will step up and give to this ministry.  It’s in these moments that we have such an amazing opportunity to tell them how much our Creator in heaven adores them and wants to have a relationship with them.

Ever since that trip Chris and I have been amazed at “how” God is putting all of the pieces together.  As I sat on that floor in Nigeria and wondered how, I sure didn’t know, but God did.  I am so glad He has a plan.  Chris and I are humbled that He has chosen us to be a part of it.  Now we are on the brink of a new experience as we get ready to leave for Nigeria.  This time it’s with my whole family.  It’s a different dynamic.  But we are still offering the same thing:  HOPE through Christ.

Children in the Village

Children in the Village

Handing out soccer balls to children in the village with the Munafos

Handing out soccer balls to children in the village with the Munafos

Chris spending time with a child from the village

Chris spending time with a child from the village