Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Brandon's Chronicle of Events Through Thursday

Hello everyone!  In this post, I hope to catch you all up Tuesday through Thursday!  After that, I'll cover Friday-Sunday and give a final post later!

Tuesday started with personal prayer and devotion time, breakfast, group devotion, and then it moved on into the same work painting the wall.  It was VERY hot work, and we all got a bit out-of-it finishing, but at the end of the time, the once-red wall that we had primed white was now yellow!

Next, we ate lunch with the kids and prepared for an afternoon of lessons!  This time, we had an activity with paper plates to illustrate part of the lesson about using our blessings to bless others, and James taught most of the lesson while I translated, when necessary.  It was obviously both a difficult and rewarding afternoon for James--teaching in another language is quite a bit tougher than teaching in your native tongue.

We then had our evening supper, played with the kids in the cancha (playground), and did our evening devotions with them.  We also had a nice group debriefing and discussion, to round down the evening.

Wednesday, we started off our morning with an early 7am breakfast, and then we went to the local 'International House of Prayer' and joined them for a morning of prayer.

We next began sorting large boxes of food into piles (the food was going to go bad before it could be used by the children's home), determining what all food was available, and finally making blue food-bags with them to be given out to the mothers of the children at the home so that the children could eat when they were sent home briefly over the short summer break.  We worked on this both Wednesday and Thursday, but photos below are from the completed project.

After lunch, we again had lessons with the youth--this time over peacemaking using some Aikido to visualize responses to conflict.  The kids also greatly enjoyed a zombie game that tied into our lesson about not letting verbal attacks from multiple people sink in and moving our minds and hearts to love and understand.

Later that night, we enjoyed another great supper, had time in the cancha with the kids, and read them devotions.  We also were able to debrief with a couple of friends from the home staff joining us.

Thursday, we finished making food bags, then we taught our final lesson to the kids.  It was a fairly fun lesson involving cups with Manzana Lift (a delicious apple soda) and cups with a gross mixture (we used vinegar, bathroom cleaning water, dirt, hair, trash, spit, etc.).  The start of the lesson involved us leading the kids around in a follow-the-leader-line-game.  Then they had to do it blindfolded.  It was obviously harder when they couldn't see.  We then asked them which was easier, and we asked them if they trusted God, even when the future seemed back and they couldn't see.  We also asked them if they trusted us.  They answered yes to both.  At that, we obviously mixed the bad drinks and set down a number of bad and good drinks (half as many bad drinks as were youth in the room, and half as many good drinks as were youth in the room), then we blindfolded them and moved them and the drinks around so that they didn't know who had what (except that half had good and half had bad drinks).  While we were shuffling them around, we also switched all the bad drinks with hidden good drinks, so that everyone had good drinks.  Then we asked again if they trusted us, told them they all had good drinks, and told them that they didn't have to drink if they didn't want to but that they were now free to drink!  It was funny seeing how many slowly sniffed the drinks, how many barely sipped it with revulsion on their faces, and how many refused to drink.  Then we told them to open their eyes, and they all saw their drinks were good and drank.

This was obviously a great lesson about trusting God when we cannot see the future, have reason to believe that the path He's telling us to follow is bad, but still trusting Him if we know He is calling us down the path.  

With the older kids we also shared the story of the disciples--how they fled and hid when Jesus died; they could never see the future, but the future now seemed very bad!  Then we shared how some even had to feel Jesus' wounds before trusting enough to follow (like many didn't drink until they lost their blindfolds).  We explained that Jesus doesn't require perfect faith, but that we do have to trust Him in greater measure as we go.  We were also honest that, while the disciples DID get the best life by following Him, that following Him does have a serious cost--all the disciples died brutal deaths.  Nonetheless, we fervently believe that they lived the best lives for them, and that they had rewards on earth and will in the life to come.  All in all, it was a fun, good, lesson, and it seemed that many of the youth 'got' it.

After that lesson, we had a different supper--we ate with the local pastor and his wife, the children's home's director and his wife, and a young assistant at the home and his wife.  It was a fun fellowship supper; afterwards, we played with the kids briefly in the cancha and had devotions with them and a debrief time within our group.  It was a good and full day--though very exhausting.  Chronicles to continue!...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Wandering Thoughts and New Developments

Hello again!

This trip has been a whirlwind and a half, and I haven't taken the time to write any posts since it began, but sitting here, enjoying the beautiful morning and watching some form of ceremony involving all the kids happen across the street at the Children's Home has encouraged me to go ahead and write some. My thoughts are pretty jumbled, so this post will likely just wander around to different things that have impacted me the most. There have been a lot of those kinds of moments and experiences!

The people here in Mexico are AWESOME!! The family that we've been staying with, the workers at the Home, and especially the children themselves - they are all incredible individuals to have gotten to know over the past few days. The relationships that have begun will not be easily broken, even if I only get to see this people once each year, and I greatly look forward to growing these new friendships.

The children especially have been fun to get to know - since the very first day, a few girls and some of the boys have always made a point of coming up and giving me a hug or asking me questions whenever I see them. To this day, I still have no idea what they said to me, but I have been able to pick up a few words and phrases. But that doesn't seem to matter to them - even without being able to say to them much besides English and "No hablo Espanol" ("I don't speak Spanish"), they still have worked with me and we've spent some good time together. Some of them have shown me the different games they want to play or simply grabbed my hand and led me around. Others have been trying to teach me Spanish without being able to speak any English - one little girl was very excited when she decided I had finally learned how to say 'you' in Spanish. But it's some of the quieter, more subtle moments that have really stuck out with the kids.

During the evening after our first full day at the Home, one young girl, who I think is the daughter of one of the caretakers, sat with Dawn and I before we left for the night. We didn't really say much, but it was obvious that all she wanted was to sit there with Dawn's arm around her and lean on my shoulder with her arm wrapped around mine. It was a very touching moment, largely because neither of us had much prior interaction with this girl. She came up to basically complete strangers and had us sit with her. Many of the kids are that way here. They don't really care who you are or why you're there or even if you can understand them or talk to them. They simply want to ask you what your name is, and then you are friends - all they want is to sit next to you, be held by you or play a game or take a photo with you. The kids don't demand anything of you - just be there with them.

Another evening, during the devotions we have been doing with the girls, we were sitting in the dormitory and the girls were singing a worship song. The lights had been turned off because they were getting ready for bed, but there was enough light coming through the windows to still mostly see. (The video that follows is an audio recording of the girls singing and talking, but it's terrible quality - I didn't want to disrupt the moment, so I was trying to discretely record it with my cell phone) I was sitting on the floor, surrounded by girls sitting or lying around us, and I felt a small hand slip into mine. I followed the arm to its owner and was very surprised to see which girl it was. This girl is very independent and she frequently was being rebellious and not following directions during our lessons each day. That night, while we were sitting, her hand resting in mine, she never even looked at me, but she still needed to know that I was there and I cared for her. She wanted that confirmation that we loved her, even if she was being trying during the lessons, so she needed to feel that I was there and I wouldn't reject or leave her. It was a very powerful moment that is hard to fully explain the true feeling of.

I have also grown much more connected to the other people on this trip. Our relationships have become stronger and I've very much enjoyed getting to know each person through this experience. There have also been a few developments that I was not at all expecting and am still trying to work out. The most prominent one is that this trip has forced me to be more dependent on others, which is not something I'm used to or entirely comfortable with. I'm still working to figure out how to balance this dependence with my native inclination to rely on only myself and my own abilities. Without being able to speak the language or understand it, it's been necessary for me to depend on Brandon and James, as well as Becky and a few of the other people who work at the Children's Home to speak for me and to translate what the kids and workers who only speak Spanish say. Although it does not always matter if I can't communicate with words, there have been a few instances that have required it, such as when I was trying to explain the rules to a game during one of the lessons, and in those moments I feel quite helpless. I usually would have to wait for one of the guys to help me out, but in that moment when I can't say what is needed, I have this terrible feeling of uselessness. It has never really caused a major issue during the lessons or when I'm playing with the kids, but it has forced me to change my perspective some, and I believe it is for the better.

I didn't really expect this trip to cause any drastic changes in my own faith besides just strengthen it, but it has. This need to rely on the abilities of others when my own are lacking will likely lead to some pretty major changes in my perspective and relationship with God. I greatly prefer to do things on my own and receive a lot of satisfaction from knowing I am capable of doing things well under my own power. But my inability on this trip to communicate with words when the situation made it necessary has caused me to reconsider if that is really how it should be. My faith in God, including my dependence and reliance on Him, is what should give me strength and enable me to effectively complete tasks, not my own abilities. I have realized over the past four days here in Juarez that I don't really trust God in the way I should, and this has given me a new drive to increase my faith in Him. I should rely on Him completely, not just in the partial way I have been. I'm incredibly thankful for the opportunities this trip has given me, especially in ways that I never would have expected. This trip has lead to a huge realization in my own faith, and hopefully I will continue to grow in my dependence on the Lord's strength.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read our blog and for your prayers and support! We can't do our work here without it! Today is our last day with the kids (they go home for the weekends), and our last full day in Juarez. Our plan is to get up early tomorrow morning and cross back into the US. If you feel lead to, please pray that the kids would enjoy the fiesta we have planned for this afternoon and the 'spa day' Dawn and I are going to have with the girls and the caretakers. I would also request prayers that the kids are safe as they head home for the weekend, and that they still have access to Christian role models during that time. Also please pray for safe travels for us tomorrow. We have a couple good but LONG days ahead of us, so we'll need energy and patience as we push through them.

Thank you again!  -Tella

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Beautiful God Moments

Thinking through this day I honestly feel like it was more than ONE day. I mean that in the best way possible because it has been just such a full and purposeful day.

After another amazing breakfast (seriously, the food here is made with such love!) and group devotions we headed back to the outside wall at the Children's Home that we had already primed with white paint and began the task of rolling on the new yellow paint. Armed with sunblock, bottles of water and our needed painting tools we rocked out that wall as a team. There's always a work project to be done and I feel that we were blessed to be a bit of a help to the staff here by checking that sweaty task off their list. It is an honor to use the skills we have been given to help in any practical way that we can here in support of the work that is done at this home.

Lunch has been interesting this week as we have the joy of eating with the children in the home. James and Brandon stay downstairs with the boys during lunch while Tella and I have been joining the girls upstairs. It has been QUITE the experience to see how they handle serving their food, eating and interacting with each other and helping in the cleanup process with the hermanas when they are done. Also, it is unique to experience what the children are eating each day....the staff here does an awesome job in making sure these kids get tasty and balanced meals.

Then the afternoon was filled with lessons with the children! Starting with a fun game where they had to figure out how to work together to accomplish their task. Then a great lesson, this time led by James who really stepped up to practice his Spanish speaking while using the gift God has given him to teach.

Truly each person on this team has really stepped up in a lot of ways and it is a blessing to experience.

At dinner we had some time to laugh and chat again with Becky and Adam. It is so great to continue building relationships with them and everyone else, hearing their hopes and dreams for this place and how they seek after God through it all. They have such huge hearts for these kids, it's inspiring.

We also had a little time this evening to play with the children outside, which is always exhausting but FUN. Then it was time for devotions before bed, something else that is a new thing for us to be a part of on this trip. Oh it has been a BLESSING!!!

Brandon and James of course went to the boys dorms to do devotions with them while Tella, Becky (who has been MOST helpful in translating for us) and I headed upstairs to the girls dormitory for our devotions. We have been reading letters from the book His Princess to the girls along with the accompanying Bible verse.

For me, the most touching part of today was our devotion time with the girls!!!

In the younger girls' room we joined them on their bunk beds and read the letter to his little Princesses to encourage them and express Christ's love for them. It was a very special time. As Becky was translating the letter for the room I was sitting beside one little girl who had invited me over to sit with her on her bunk. She had her little arm around me hugging me and looked up at me and said "Yo Princesa?" ...basically asking if we meant SHE herself was a princess. I smiled at her and said "Si" ...that's all it took for her to smile so big, hug me tighter and direct her attention back to Becky reading the letter.


Then afterwords the little girls wanted to listen to a song so Becky picked out fun upbeat worship song and we all danced around the room having a fun time just being silly until it was time for goodnight kisses and lights out.

Then the three of us ladies headed to the older girls' room and were immediately bombarded by the waiting ambush of a pillow fight attack! hahaha!! It was glorious! Lots of laughter as the adult women were being attacked by little girls with big fluffy pillows until we found ammunition of our own! Pillows (provided by the girls who wanted us to participate of course!) AND a big over-sized mat that Becky used as a defense. Once things settled down we all sat together and read the Princess devotion. This seems especially touching to the older girls, a few of which I noticed listen quite intently to these messages.

After we were done discussing the devotion these girls also wanted a song...but it surprised me in the most pleasant of ways when I discovered they didn't desire an upbeat worship song to dance to. They wanted a softer one so Becky pulled the one they requested up on her phone, they turned off the lights and we all sat together as they sang the words to this song. A little light was coming in through the windows on the opposite side of the room just enough so I could see the girls sitting on the floor around us. Some were looking around and singing and others had their heads bowed and eyes closed.

It was an overwhelmingly beautiful moment. I'm not ashamed to admit I got a little choked up as my eyes started brimming with tears during this. I'm not sure if one girl noticed this in the dark or if she just wanted to feel connected to me. In either case, at that moment a girl scooted over to me and facing me on the floor just reached out and grabbed my arms, looked at me, and smiled as she kept singing. When we said our good nights and received hugs the girls always yell after us "Good night, I love you!!" It's incredibly sweet...

It's so hard to adequately describe such a moment, you have to live it. As these girls sang a song to their King their beautiful voices just filled that room. I was awe-struck through the whole thing.

These boys and girls come from all sorts of life scenarios and are staying in a home sharing rooms with several of their peers. I cannot stress enough to our readers how important this Children's Home is. There are always needs to be met for these children, repairs to be made in the home and countless other things that go into what the staff here do to keep this place going and improving for the sake of these children. We want to encourage ALL of you to check out more about them and let us know if you want to help in some way. They always are looking for more visitors and those willing to help with work projects like we're doing here. If you'd like to help support the work being done here even on this trip we are on it's not too late. I encourage you to connect with us and ask us about these opportunities to help! We really believe in this place and the work that God is doing through people here.

Thank you all for your love, support and prayers as always.
<3 in Christ ~Dawn

Finishing Monday's Update

So, as I was saying!--the lessons and devotions went well.  The children have been broken into four groups (young boys, older boys, young girls, and older girls), and we work with one group at a time.  We had a rather fun lesson set this go-around in which we asked the kids if they trusted God and if what He said was good was good and if what He said was bad was bad.  Then we asked them if they trusted us.  They said yes to all of those questions.

 At that point, we pulled out 100% cacao unsweetened chocolate and told them it was bad and that they wouldn't want it or like it.  We gave them the choice, though, if they changed their minds and didn't believe us ton line up and try it.  All but 3 youth tried it. 

Of course, 100% cacao IS quite bad, and they all got horrible expressions and spit it out into a trash can. 

We then told them that Hershey's chocolate was good and let them have that--of course, it was delicious.  We then made an analogy to how that is similar to God and sin.  Often He says something is bad, but it looks and seems good to us (like the 100% cacao did--it is in a nice wrapper, it says that it's not just chocolate, it's 100% chocolate, and it smells good).  However, God is trustworthy and He knows--if He says the action is bad it is bad.  Nonetheless, just like the kids, we often choose to try the sin anyway, and we often find the results are quite bad.  We discussed with the older youth that the results may not be about just being caught but about heart attitudes and broken relationships from our actions, etc.  The lesson went further and had some coloring activities and some games, as well (both tied in to reinforce the general idea that we could/should trust that what God says about right and wrong is true and good).

The lesson was most encouraging in that it seemed like quite a few kids got the point and understood it.  There were also some pretty funny/fun reactions to the lesson.  As part of the coloring activity, we asked the kids to draw something good (bien) and bad (mal) to remember the idea that what God says is good is good and what He says is bad is bad.  One kid drew his 'mal' as me holding a 100% chocolate bar.  That made all of us laugh.  Another fun thing was that one girl decided that I needed to eat the 100% cacao, too--I told them that I said that it was bad before they chose to try it and that I didn't really have to, but I ate a piece, anyway.

All in all, the lessons seemed to go quite well yesterday--please pray for today's lessons!  After the lessons, we ate supper and then saw the kids in the playground and read evening devotions to them that tied in with the lesson.  (In this case the devotions were over hearing God's voice and about how we need to listen to Him to determine right from wrong when it is unclear where to head).

After that, we retired to the chairs in front of the house we are staying in and chatted with the two who are transitioning to be the new leaders of the home (Adam and Becky).  It was a fun conversation involving humor, translation errors, and more.  I also purchased corn-in-a-cup from a vendor that drove past the house (I didn't know it, but I guess that's a thing here).

After that, at about 11:30 pm here (mountain time), I fell asleep a few times typing yesterday's update, so I figured I'd get up and post today, instead.

The only other thing that I want to share on here with you (there are many MANY more things to share, but not enough blog) is from the first day we arrived and played with the kids.  Hector (the kid who is the 'Hector Hat' in the photo below was one of many who wanted me to swing him around by the arms or by one arm and one leg (a game called little airplane).

However, Hector was sweet enough that he gave me a small dinosaur toy from Toy Story.  I tried to give it back, but it became obvious (and he said as much) that it was a gift and that he wanted me to have it.  It was a very sweet gesture, and he hung out with me much of the rest of the evening talking about how he liked rain and climbing on my head, etc.  The children here are children just like any other, and it is an honor and a privilege to get to know them.  I know that many of you are praying for us, and I request that you continue, but I also want you to know that the home is still in dire straights when it comes to needing visitors and needing recurring financial support.

One of the conversations we had with Adam and Becky (the two who are becoming the new leaders of the home) was about how the violence has lessened in the extreme, but there are still few, if any, new visitors to the home, and many churches stopped financially supporting them once they stopped visiting the youth/ministry that they supported.  The city is much safer now than it ever has been on a trip that I've taken here (even safer than before the drug war on my first trip 9 years ago), there has never yet been an incident with anyone in the more than 50,000 visits here, and yet no one is brave enough to come back and love these very lovable children.  I would request that you pray about either 1) coming yourself or 2) letting other churches and ministries that you are connected to know about this amazing place and know that they are here, they are legitimate, and they still need more people to come down and more people to pray with them and financially support them.  Please spread the word about these amazing kids and this amazing place, and please help this legitimate part of God's Kingdom that is in need.  Thanks again for your prayers on this trip, and we'll keep you updated about it as we go!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Late Monday Update

Today's been quite eventful, as one could expect.  We woke up to the AMAZING smell of Soledad's cooking.  (This trip, instead of staying in the casita that we usually stay in, we are in the large house owned by the founder of the children's home and his wife, Soledad).  After eating, we headed over and did some painting.

The wall we painted was red to begin with--it is ultimately to become light yellow, like much of the rest of the home.

After painting, we did lunch with the kids and taught our first lesson set.  Thank you all SO much for the prayers--the lessons seemed to be taken well and to go well.

I have quite a bit more to say, but I'm falling asleep as I type, so that will wait for tomorrow.  Keep our lessons and devotions in your prayers--thanks!

God is Good

This is my first entry in the blog, but hopefully it will not be my last. God has been so good to our group this entire trip, and I just wanted to share some of his goodness with our followers. To begin the adventures in Mexico God allowed us to be witness to a very Spirit led church service on Sunday. The pastor spoke passionately about being grateful for the giver and not just the gifts. He also spoke about the duty parents have to be good examples and protectors of their children. His example came from the book of Matthew, during the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus reminded the people that if parents who are sinners can give good gifts, we can expect God to give even better gifts. This was just a great reminder of how much trust we need to have in God. We can know that he is the giver of good gifts and he knows us more intimately than we even know ourselves.

The continuation of God's goodness arrived today in the form of unity within the group and many willing hands to help meet any needs that could have arisen. We started off by priming a wall so that it can be painted yellow later this week. It was hot and complicated, but no one in the group complained or tried to avoid working. We simply dug in and did our best to fill all the cracks and crevices with primer (outer walls are not always in good repair or smooth). After sweating in the hot sun for an hour or so, we had time for lunch and a little rest before afternoon lessons. Today's lesson was a reminder to trust God (specifically regarding sin) even when what he says does not seem appealing to us. We want what we should not have, but he allows us to experience failure. As a demonstration we brought 100% baking cacao (cocoa) and told the children that it was not good to eat even though it looks and smells like edible chocolate. All but three kids decided not to listen to us and experienced the bad taste 100% cacao (representing sin) leaves in one's mouth. Later we offered them a chance to have milk chocolate meant to represent God's good gifts and everyone enjoyed that much better. The children seemed to all learn an important lesson in trusting God's judgment over their own.

In the evening we were able to have devotions with the children about hearing God's voice. Dawn and Tella visited the girls' dormitories while Brandon and I visited the boys'. The verse we read with the boys came from John 10:27. Jesus tells us that we who are his sheep will listen to his voice and follow him. We know his voice well and are willing to walk after him. Much like sheep, if we are not familiar with the Shepherd's voice, we cannot know when and where to move without being led. Sheep trust in the shepherd to lead them to open pastures and away from dangers. However, they must listen closely to the voice of the shepherd. We too must listen to the voice of the Shepherd. We read God's word to understand his character and to know his voice. And when we are faithful we follow him as he speaks and leads us.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Blessed Sunday

My thoughts for tonight shall be short and sweet, as I am ready to fall asleep. I just wanted to take a moment though to express my gratitude for everyone who sent us and has been praying for us on this journey. I am truly honored and blessed by all of you. I know our team is very blessed as well.

This Sunday has been a blessed one for sure.

Today was full of wonderful meal-time conversations with the people here, a tremendously powerful time of worship throughout the entire church service (watching those children jump and dance just melts my heart), some prep time for the coming week and tour of the changes in the Children's Home facilities, lunch with the kids in the home (we get to eat with the kids in their cafeteria, a NEW experience!), time in the cancha with the children playing and running and sweating...and making connections already.

In our group devotion time this evening I expressed that one of my favorite things about today was that we were able to start seeing a few connections already happening. We all have a chance to interact with all the children at some point...but often there are a few that are drawn to certain individuals and just bond with them. I know a few connections already began between myself and a few girls this afternoon. What a blessing!!!

My heart did ache a little to hear of some of the kids that are no longer at the home for various reasons. I pray they feel God's presence in their lives wherever they are.

Today it was also a joy to catch up more with our amigos Adam and Becky and listen to their hopes and dreams for both the Children's Home and the House of Prayer here in Juarez.  The leaders here have such a powerful heart for these children and this city and sacrifice so much in following God's calling on their lives here. Listening to them re-ignites within me just how necessary this ministry is and how it needs to NOT be forgotten by their Christian brothers and sisters. They are doing an astounding kingdom work here and they need your prayers and support as they continue showing Christ's love to these children and taking care of the needs of all those before them. It is a humbling experience for me to continue building relationships here and keeping these connections alive as we help in every way that we can while we are here, using the unique gifts that we have each been given and sharing the love of our Savior.

I know we're excited to begin work projects tomorrow morning to help in several practical ways to meet needs here at the home and then spending more one on one lesson time, devotion time, and fun time with these beautiful children.

Also, the four of us on this team seem to be bonding wonderfully and building each other up in various ways. It is a blessing to experience as we work together and seek the Holy Spirit's leading on this trip.

Again, thank you all for your prayers. There are beautiful things happening here in Juarez Mexico.

Buenos Noches!

Further Updates Sunday, July 6th 2014

So--service was really cool to experience.  The church has a new, young pastor, and he is very interested in reaching out to the members of his congregation.  His message was very good--it emphasized not just asking God for His blessings but actually listening for God and for what He wants us to do for His Kingdom--even today.  We had a good chat with him, ate lunch with the kids, got a tour of part of the home, and then we played with the kids in the cancha (playground).  Below are some videos and pictures to help bring you along with us on this experience.

First, here's a longer video of us riding into Juarez and up to the Home--you can see more of what the city looks like and what the home looks like at the end of it.

Here are two videos from the worship portion of the service:

Here is a video of playing in the concha:

and here are some photos of a few parts of the home to orient you so that you can visualize when we talk about places.  Below are the cancha (playground), kitchen/dining room, and a variety of the dorms that the kids sleep in.  There is also a photo of the mat room and of one of the upstairs lesson rooms (that we often teach lessons in):

And finally, here are some photos of us playing with kids in the cancha (playground):