Up bright and early this morning! Our team is off to Monterrey! We are excited for ALL that God has in store for us!
Thursday was field trip day for our group and for the kids at Rancho. We spent the morning at the beach in what seemed to be tourist hub of the city. There were hotels and vendors and all the things you’d expect to find at a bustling vacation destination. We made our way through an outdoor mall, and as we passed the sign reading “Beach Access”, we looked up to see the bluest sky meeting the bluest water. This picture doesn’t do it a bit of justice, but here it is anyhow:
This view was the backdrop for our last day of quiet time and small groups. We talked about God’s grace and some noted their doubts and honest wrestlings while others testified of his faithfulness. We gazed out at the waves and marveled at how something could be so beautiful and so dangerous at the same time.
Maybe your faith journey has been a little bit like that. Maybe you’ve been up and down, endured some storms, and wondered if you’d ever reach the shore. Maybe you’re there right now. One of the most daunting parts of being a Christian is growing a depth in your soul that allows you to hurt and hope all at once.
Later on, we would worship together (like we did each evening of the trip) and come to learn that a family member of someone in the Kansas group had passed away tragically that day. We prayed and prayed that night. We prayed for peace and comfort for the family. We prayed for God’s will to be done. We prayed for hope.
Several times throughout the week someone from Back2Back would say this about the kids at Rancho: “We never want to get fixed on what a child will never be able to do. We want to focus only on the one next step God wants us to help them take.” A prime example—Little Victor.
Victor is a 14-year-old boy who has spent most of his life at Rancho de los Ninos. Four years ago, at ten years old, he weighed 22 pounds, and his development was basically that of a newborn. His body refused to process food, and he spent all of his time laying on a mat, staring up at a fan. No one would have seen it coming, but Victor’s life would soon change in dramatic fashion.
A pediatrician was on a trip, much like the one we just took, and he figured out that Victor’s development had been stunted by this condition because his body was unable to turn food into nutrients. His body suffered; his brain suffered—everything suffered. The pediatrician urged the folks at Rancho to get Victor into a hospital and have a surgery to clear the blockage in his intestine. The doctors at the hospital said they could do the surgery, but they also went on to list all the things Victor would never be able to do. They said he would never roll over on his own or be able to hold himself up. He would never have the core strength to do much of anything they said.
After the surgery, it wasn’t long before Little Victor was processing food and making huge strides. For the first time, caretakers noticed that he could stretch his legs out—previously he had them twisted up like a pretzel. He used to carry a lot of pain in his stomach and would always bring his knees up to his chest, but now he’ll lay flat. He is lifting his head up and looking around. He is getting up on his elbows and sitting up all on his own.
There is a lot more to Victor’s story beyond these physical developments, but there’s something you need to pay attention to—there’s hope for Victor. We hurt because something happened in this 14-year-old boy’s life that made him only just now able to roll over on his own, but we are hopeful because just a few years ago he couldn’t do it. Doctors doubted it, but by simply doing the next best thing for Victor, the people advocating for Victor were able to help him in significant ways. Here’s a shot of him being sung to by one of our group members:
We’d like to summarize the theme of our trip briefly with this statement, knowing that the width and breadth of it has the capacity to hold the hurt we feel for these kids, the hurt we feel for orphans and vulnerable children who don’t have adults advocating for them and taking care of their needs, the hurt we feel for the many mistakes we’ve made in our own lives—we know it doesn’t fix any of these things, but it can unravel the kind of power the hurt holds on us.
Hope is real, and it doesn’t stop when we don’t get our way.
Keep hoping. Take that one next step you know God wants you to take, and you might just be surprised how he shows up.
Wednesday morning brought a routine that was now becoming familiar to the team—wake up, eat some Zucaritas (Frosted Flakes), drive to Rancho, work, play, and return just in time for dinner. It’s amazing just how much a trip like this can open up a new dimension of your life, even just for a week. In the absence of work, classes, soccer practice, emails, church, Netflix, and all the comforts of American living we began to find the laughter, conversation, and Christian community our (yours too?) souls crave. The closest comparison available might be an experience like summer camp.
It has taken us until the middle of the week to feel at ease in this new dimension. We’ve waded through the small talk and novelty of discussing the inconsequential differences of living in Kansas or Indiana or Arkansas or Virginia. Back home, when we get through the surface topics, we’ll just return our stare to the glow in our palms. But there is a magical consequence awaiting those who resist this urge. It’s called connection.
In connection, there is a world of meaning and color. Gifts like joy, understanding, compassion, and empathy. There are a number of reasons some turn away from connection. It’s much easier to maintain a sense of control if there is no thing and no one you’re tied to. You might learn some independence. Survival might get a little easier if there’s only yourself to look after. Compartmentalizing your life can help each area stay nice tidy.
This way of living might appeal especially to those of you reading who identify as an introvert. However, living disconnected can leave us feeling and operating a lot like an orphan—vulnerable, confused, and fearful. The effects of which are a vast array of ways people find to hurt themselves and others.
See, Back2Back understands that God has wired each of us for connection—even the orphan child who is abandoned by their family, who seemingly has no one to turn to and no where to go. It is connection that builds the brain and a person’s ability to take care of themselves. It is connection that brings us into meaningful relationships and friendships. And it is connection with Jesus that we get to know the creator and lover of our souls.
Wednesday we continued to work on the renovations at Rancho. Dirt was moved, picnic tables were stained, fences were mended. While we worked with our hands and made connections with fellow group members, it was exciting to envision the many ways these buildings and spaces will enable connection for so many children and adults in the future. Connection that will enable each independence in lifestyle, interdependence in community, and complete dependence on Jesus.
We also helped the kids make some decorations that will brighten up their new bedrooms. How cool is that?!
Heal me O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise. Jeremiah 17:14
We’re here! With a game plan ready, we arrived at Bondeni school and set up clinic for the next 3 days. Children were doubled up in already crowded classrooms so we could have space to work. It did not take long to prepare: intake/registration and triage, two exam rooms, pharmacy and most importantly, the prayer room – where unbelievable transformations were about to happen.
A team member “ushered” a patient/family through each phase, giving us time to get acquainted with every person who came for help. Once treated, we took them to the prayer room while their prescription was being filled. Beautiful things were beginning to happen there …
Remember we are at a school in session … picture us us moving patients through each phase in the midst of hundreds of joyful, energetic children … what an unbelievable experience, to be caring for physical needs and loving on these children in every minute in between!
A humbling and rewarding first day … we are no longer focused not the conditions of Mathare, but totally immersed in the people and the moment. What a blessing to be serving Him in this incredible place. Praises!
Amassing amounts of bug bites, sunburn in unusual places, and a surprising number of insde jokes– all signs that we have hit the halfway point of our trip in Mazatlan, Mexico!
While physically we’re becoming more comfortable with our environment, spiritually and mentally God continues to push us outside of our comfort zone by expanding our view of His world and the people He’s placed in it.
In the car ride home yesterday some of us were asking one of the American staff members about the cuisine in Mexico. He confessed that while Mexico does a lot of things well when it comes to food, there are still two things that need some improvement: pizza and pastries.
He then began to talk about how the pastry situation is especially tricky because they always look so good. And yet every time he bites into the delicate piece of sweetness, he’s let down. So much so, that another family on staff with B2B has turned it into a phrase. When something seems incredible on the outside but then turns out to be a major let down, you can say you’ve been “Mexican pastried.”
While hilarious this is in the context of desserts, haven’t we all been Mexican pastried in our lives? Like Edmund’s insatiable hunger for Turkish Delight, sin presents itself as an irresistible dessert only to leave us with an agonizing stomach ache. And along with the stomach ache from our gluttony we’re confronted with a desire to hide: shame.
Personally, I’ve only experienced the burden of shame for my own actions. It was a new concept today to realize that much of the shame these orphans carry is for the actions of others they’ve unfortunately had to witness.
While shame may mask itself differently for different people, it results in a burden too heavy for us to carry. While weighed down by the shame of our sin, we can quickly become spiritually paralyzed.
Shame, whether for our actions or others, is a paralyzing weight in our lives that keeps us from living with boldness. The only antidote to this weight is to throw it off to someone who can carry it for us with ease: Christ.
“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. H will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”
Psalm 103: 8-12
Many of our work projects for today were continuations of work yesterday. We finished filling in a plant area with dirt, and then leveled the area This required taking wheelbarrows full of dirt up a fairly steep ramp, so of course this led to what seemed like a montage of failures. A group of people also started staining picnic tables and putting together a fence around the soon to be basketball court.
We ended our time at El Rancho with some free time to play with the kids. This time consisted of coloring, puzzles, reading books, and singing to one another. It was a sweet time to connect with a child one on one for a longer period of time.
One incredible trait about most people with specials needs is that they are unashamedly themselves. Their is no inhibiting aspects of their identity, because there is no shame in who they are. What a freeing example they set for us to follow.
Lord, help us to understand Christ’s sacrifice for us more fully, and to accept it with all that we have. Thank you for bearing our shame we carry so that we can be free to live boldly for you. Amen.
Monday: Not Forgotten
It’s our nature to forget. The past is a bit like a picture that sits in the sun—freshly printed and illuminated by the sun’s rays, you’ll be able to see the colors and shapes in the photo pretty clearly. But like the pictures in our mind of days gone by, the photo will fade over time.
These snapshots we take all throughout our lives can sometimes be restored or recalled. A song can remind you of the time you first heard it or a smell will bring back memories of holidays from years ago. However, even these memories are somewhat washed out. A memory can remind us of a loved one who has passed, but it can’t bring them to us. A memory won’t let you wrap five senses around someone.
Pictures have come a long way. We don’t have to worry anymore about them fading—even if you leave your phone or thumb drive in the sun too long. While these digital advances can preserve a photo, they can’t preserve the memory. You might even find an old photo and wonder to yourself, “I know I took this photo, but I can’t remember when or why or who the people are in it.”
We’re forgetful people; no doubt. That’s probably why we often fear others are forgetting us—because we forget them! From time to time, we all feel forgotten in some way, but the Lord is teaching our group something very important this week: He has not forgotten anyone.
What We Learned
After breakfast each morning, the staff here lead us through some training called trauma competent care. This training is meant to help us understand the behaviors of children who have suffered significant trauma in the early years of their lives. It’s really important that teams get this background before heading out to interact with the kids at Rancho.
We learned there are two kinds of trauma: abuse and neglect. The instructor asked the group which they thought was worse, and you might be surprised to find out that neglect has a greater negative impact on a child than abuse. Because each person has been wired for relationship, there is no greater need they have than connection.
There is nothing as damaging to a child (or any person) as being forgotten.
What We Did
Our schedule Monday through Wednesday will go mostly unchanged. We have breakfast, get some training, and then head out to Rancho. We spend the morning working hard on construction projects, and in the afternoon, we spend time with the kids before packing up and heading back to the team house for dinner, worship, and debrief.
Here are a few shots of the team hard at work:
In the first you see us filling and leveling the bottom of a large hole. This hole will eventually be a trampoline for the kids to jump on. Because of the many varieties of physical disabilities, the hole allows the trampoline to sit at ground level. This way the kids don’t have to struggle to climb up in.
The second photo shows team members staining boards that will be made into custom designed picnic tables. The custom design will allow the children with wheelchairs to wheel right up to the table. In fact, one of our group members commented in our debrief how diligent the men building the tables were about getting the exact specifications to make this possible. No detail is overlooked (or forgotten) when it comes to caring for these kids.
Isaiah 49:15 says: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
Sadly, people forget each other. We neglect the needs of our closest friends and family. Maybe you find yourself in that place today. Do you feel alone or forgotten? Do you feel like God has left you wandering on your own?
I hope you are encouraged by the fact that God is going to great lengths to show his love to the kids at Rancho—he hasn’t forgotten them, and he hasn’t forgotten you!