For starters, this will be a very long narrative. There is no way I can leave out so many important, life changing details, so get your coffee or tea and sit back to read about what God is accomplishing with a small group of people in Monterrey. Mexico is beautiful and its people are even more precious...I'm so humbled by the whole place and its people...how can you come to such a special place and not go away changed? If you have the stamina, read it all the way through to the end to find out what has changed and the shift that has taken place in my life....
Chapter 1, Day 1 – Friday, 7/15, 2011
My dear friend Heidi and I set out for Monterrey after a brief coffee stop in the airport (sadly no Starbucks in our departing terminal!) The flight was quick and in no time we were waiting in line for Customs on the Mexico side. They let us in the country and shortly afterward we were exchanging money and getting a taxi to the hotel in downtown Monterrey, a city of 8 million people! The driver quickly learned that we knew very little of the language but was patient as he pointed out landmarks, mountains, and places to visit, telling us the names and allowing us time to figure out what he was saying.
We arrived at the hotel and left our bags behind the desk with the clerk as they didn't have a room ready for us yet. We took off on foot to explore downtown. We ate some amazingly tasty Tortas (sandwich with chicken, tomatoes, and avocado spread), walked around some of the downtown sculptures and park, and explored the contemporary art museum and two history museums. We went back to the hotel, cleaned up and then went out to eat dinner and see the market area at night. That night we crashed at the hotel and got plenty of sleep in preparation for the next day.
Chapter 2 – Saturday, 7/16
Walked down to the market again to pick up some breakfast at the bakery. Had a yummy whole wheat roll with a cinnamon glaze on top, Checked out of the hotel and took a taxi back to the airport to meet up with the Back2Back crew and group members. The driver stayed fairly quiet for most of the long drive, but towards the end began trying to communicate with us with his little bit of English, telling us he learned from the streets :) He was helpful in getting us to the right terminal, although a bit confused as to why two americana senoritas with all their luggage wanted to be taken to the arrivals and baggage claim area instead of departures. We found our B2B contacts, Lonnie Clouse and Oscar Hernandez, almost as soon as we walked in and surprised them. They were only given the current day's flights and didn't expect that two more would be joining them from a previous day's flight. They welcomed us warmly and we soon boarded the chartered bus with the rest of the arriving team to make the trip out to the Back2Back campus.
The campus was beautiful and situated between two mountain ranges that hedged us in from either side. We put the luggage up in the dormitory that the women in our group would be staying in, ate some lunch and had our orientation meeting, headed by Beth Guckenberger, one of the founders of the ministry and an anointed woman of faith. Throughout the rest of the day, we played with group of children visiting from the neighboring orphanage for a birthday celebration, went swimming with them, painted nails, and had a time of community worship in the evening.
Something I read today resounded in my mind and soul for the entire day:
“When I can no more stir my soul to move,
And life is but the ashes of a fire;
When I can but remember that my heart
Once used to live and love, long and aspire--
Oh, be thou then the first, the one thou art;
Be thou the calling, before all answering love,
And in me wake hope, fear, boundless desire.”
(Diary of an Old Soul, George McDonald)
Chapter 3 – Sunday, 7/17
If you could drink in an entire mountain, I would. The majestic beauty of the jagged, tree covered silhouettes against the sunrise were unbelievable! They are so resolute in their purpose and identity and I have an even greater reverence for their Maker. My heart has been so thirsty for beauty like this and hungry for a peaceful rest. I have heard it said that when you have lost your way that you should stay where you are until help comes to find you...Help will find me in these mountains!
We had our first small group meeting in the morning, and then loaded up on the buses and went to the neighboring orphanage, Casa Hogar Douglas, where we attended their church service. Even thought the service was almost entirely in Spanish, the passion and love of God was extremely evident in the faces of these precious people. They were so welcoming and patient with us as we did our best to understand what was being said and participate with them.
We then drove to Casa Hogar del Norte where we met mama Martha Rojas, one of the most dedicated and visionary women I have ever met. This is the woman who visited the government offices in Mexico daily for almost two years until they gave her the abandoned lot which she started the orphanage on. She said that God told her to start a home for orphans and that this was the land she was to start the home on. Her faith and persistence paid off and with Back2Back supporting her in whatever way possible she has continued to raise children who would otherwise have been in the streets and victims of the rampant sex trade of Mexico. We assisted in clearing the playground area of the overgrown weeds and rocks, and digging post holes for the new play houses. I was able to use both a machete and a jackhammer during the course of our work day! When we finished our work, we interacted with the kids of the home, playing games and cuddling the little ones.
|View from the unfinished portion of Casa Hogar del Norte|
When we arrived back on campus, there was a Quinceañera going on for one of the young girls who was turning 15. I had heard quite a bit about this customary birthday celebration, but was amazed to see that it was much like a wedding without the groom! It was fun to watch the salsa dancing and interaction amongst staff, residents, staff kids, and guests.
Chapter 4 – Monday, 7/18
|Outside the gates at Manatial de Amor|
Departed for Casa Hogar Manatial de Amor where we painted, cleared lots, sealed the roof, and since we didn't have a concrete mixer, they mixed it right on the sidewalk! It was fascinating to watch and even the little kids picked up their shovels to help. My “picture of the day” was a little girl named Ruby that I had met the day before who skipped over to where I was painting the window guards and said, “¡Mirar!”. She began drawing on the sidewalk with chalk and wanted me to play with her. She drew the words, “te amo dios” and looked at me with a peaceful smile. She gave me the chalk and I drew a little girl with a crown and beautiful little dress and wrote her name out beside it. She looked confused and I explained in the little Spanish that I know that she was a princess of God. Her face broke into the biggest smile smile and gestured towards herself, “¿Yo?” I wouldn't trade that moment for anything in the world.
Tonight before our worship time, some of the kids from the Hope program (high school and college kids that had grown up in the orphanages) gave their testimonies through a translator. One young man named Mario came up, expressed his nervousness, but began to tell his story. There were many times where he cried silently, struggling to get the words out. He told us that his mother left him at Casa Hogar Douglas when he was 6 years old and he never understood why God would allow him to grow up in a children's home. He is struggling to find his purpose and will be graduating high school in the next month, something that most teens in Mexico can't claim. Through the Hope program he will go on to college in the fall. As he finished his testimony, he walked over to the side and grabbed up his houseparent in a huge hug and hung on for the next 5-10 minutes as he continued to cry. Please pray for this young man's heart as he continues to grow in God and heal from his broken past!
|Girls dormitory at Manatial de Amor|
Chapter 5 – Tuesday, 7/19
We returned again to Casa Hogar Manatial de Amor. It was great to see the same kids and finish up the work we started the day before. After the work was done, we play games with the kids. They taught us their version of duck, duck, goose.... “Pato, Pato, Gonso” and avidly chased us around shrieking and laughing as we would slip, find the wrong spot or at our funny antics. They also taught us their version of the nursery rhyme, “the farmer and in the dell” dancing around in the circle and pulling in the americanos to be the gato, perro, or queso.
Chapter 6 – Wednesday, 7/20
We started our day as usual, 8o'clock breakfast and devotion time, 9am quiet time, 9:30am small groups time, 10am loading up on the bus for the day's trip to a supported site.
Today we were going to one of the squatter's villages called “Cadereyta”, to where hurricane victims had been relocated by the government. They were living in unfinished cinder block homes, some only made of trash and whatever scraps they could find. Back2Back has partnered with the pastor in the community to help build a church and feed meals to those living in the community, most of whom are single mothers and their children. The mothers have to leave to go to work during the day, usually leaving their children in the care of the oldest child or a neighbor.
We arrived and I worked with part of the construction team to frame the roof so that a temporary roof could be placed on it in preparation for the bible school that would be held the next week and the 200+ women and children who were expected to attend would be out of the hot sun. Without any power tools we measured and cut all the boards and nailed them in place over one corner of the second level. After working for a few hours, we were asked to walk around the community to invite people to come to the church to eat. We were taught a simple phrase, “Vamos comer en la iglecia de tres” and with our new phrase, we set out with a few of the children that had already gathered to see the Americans and their bus. The kids wanted to ride on our shoulders and play ball and hold hands as we made our way down the little streets separating the “homes” more joined us along the way. Our little parade made quite the noise moving around the community. Some people hid in their houses and others came out to speak with us. Some graciously thanked us for the invitation, promising to come, and others seemed to not want us around.
Once we were back at the church and began serving food it seemed as though the people never stopped coming! We served hot dogs and chips and cold water to so many women and kids it was unbelievable! They were so thankful though and the kids were well behaved. I got my turn to hold the babies, learned to say the words, “mostaza, mayonesa, and catsup” very well. Afterward we played in the street in front of the church until time to leave. As I was leaving, one of the women sitting with her children in the back of the church began chattering away in Spanish. She spoke so fast and I couldn't understand her...She then burst out with... “I LOVE YOU!” in English. She pulled me in and gave me a huge hug and kissed my cheek with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face. Her little girl who was no more than three feet tall, in a little dress and bare feet, gave me a big kiss too. It was so hard to leave!
That evening, the entire group, staff and the kids from El Limon were taken to Pollo Loco (yes, the crazy chicken) to eat for dinner. It was great food and good fun to socialize a bit with B2B people off campus and away from the work.
Chapter 7 – Thursday, 7/21
Today was quite a different, but very fun day. Heidi and I were invited to go to breakfast off campus with two of the house dads, Juan and Gabo. They are also in director positions for the Hope Program and had so many questions to ask about our jobs as house parents, what we struggle with, and about our program at Boys and Girls Country. We asked just as many questions about what they do and were blessed and encouraged to share some of the same experiences and challenges in working with kids and teens. They would like to come visit Houston soon to see what we do and to see if they can implement any of our ideas into their programing. We had nacho's for breakfast! Although they said it wasn't the same thing as nachos, it was tortillas cut into small squares, topped with chicken, salsa and Mexican cheese, and served with beans and rice. It was so delicious!
A group of kids and houseparents from a partnering orphanage 6 hours away called El Limon, had traveled to the Back2Back campus that week to visit and interact with the teams that were there. They don't get as much interaction as the other local orphanages do because they are so far away. They were the best behaved kids all week and got to go on day trips out in the city, swim in the pool and have tons of people pouring into their little lives.
|Maria (right) and her friend|
We picked them up from Casa Hogar Douglas, along with the Douglas kids, and took them with us on the bus to Plaza Seasamo. This was a big theme park / water park with a Seasame Street theme. I was pair up with Maria, a little 8 yr old girl with big beautiful eyes and a smile that would win the world. We chatted as much as my Spanish would allow, she sang songs and played clapping games with me on the bus ride. We didn't have much luck with our buses that day, the first we tried to get on was blowing hot air and smoke out of the AC, the second broke down once we were almost to the theme park. We sat on the hot bus until another bus had dropped of the kids and staff and came to rescue us. It was fun though as group members provided entertainment (Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson impersonations) and we all sang songs and chatted with the kids.
Once finally there, Heidi and I took the girls we had to go ride some of the rides that the girls begged to go on. (Maria with me and Betti who was 10 and was Maria's best friend). Maria had the biggest ambitions and wanted to ride the really big ones...thankfully she backed out of some of them and I didn't have to go! We did ride one however that spun in all directions and upside down. I wasn't sure if I would make it off that one with all my organs intact, but after a little time to get my bearings afterwards, I was fine. We moved on to the water park and went down a huge slide and then slashed around in the smaller pools for the rest of the time. After changing into dry clothes, we took the kids to the “Deli Seasamo” where they all got big hamburgers, chips and soda's. This may not sound like much, but to these kids who rarely get such a meal, it was a BIG deal! Maria's face when she saw how big the hamburger was is something I won't easily forget!
That evening, we had the last of our nightly debriefs and share our thoughts, thankfulness, and memories from the week. The group that we had been paired up with called Next Chapter Church, was a phenomenal group of people. Each one of them touched my life in so many ways. The men of the group took Heidi and I in as sisters and daughters, watching after us throughout the week, and the women accepted us into their circle with open arms. I have been SO blessed with all these new friendships. It is so hard to find positive influences and during this week, God had me stumble upon a whole nest of them! I truly left a huge piece of my heart in Monterrey! That night, they presented a group of Hope program residents with $470 dollars that they had raised in excess for their trip costs, so that they could go on a mission trip themselves, their first ever time on an airplane or out of the country! They were so excited and made us all smoothies. The cost per student is around $400.
Chapter 8, Saturday 7/22
Woke up early to see the sun rise to paint the mountains one last time. We finished the last of the packing and cleaning and spent the rest of the morning on the porch of the LDM having amazing conversations, and saying our last goodbye's to the group and staff. We loaded the buses and sadly headed off to the aeropuerto. The bus long bus ride was surprisingly very quiet as we all processed the events and experiences of the week.
God has made so many promises to orphans and he is fulfilling these through the people at Back2Back.
There are so many things that I learned this week and I want to share a few of them.
1) God is faithful, forgiving, and very detailed oriented. He provides hope when no hope is left, and provides a way out when we have become so lost that there is no where left to run. He has brought me into and through some very dark times and very deep valleys, yet continues to maintain me. 2) I learned that all too often I try to create my own way and its little wonder that I fail so much. I work myself into the deepest places and seem to wait until the last possible moment to cry out for help from my Maker and the One who loves me beyond measure. Once I have realized my surroundings, I blame and can't forgive myself for getting into such a place, thereby stepping into the way of allowing God to rescue me from it! WHY??? If I just learn to listen more often than talking or planning, I would not miss out on so much that God has in store for me. 3) I learned that people who struggle with the very same issues as myself exist and are living very full, joy filled lives serving God in the ways that he has asked of them. Such a surprise and encouragement! Beth said it so well when she stated, “Too many times we get stuck on the same page and can only read the words right in front of us! The story is never over! Don't think for a minute that God has given up on you because he is just waiting for you to turn the page.”
The Next Chapter:
What I haven't yet told you is that Wednesday, on the bus ride to Cadereyta, Heidi and I had talked with Brian Bertke, who is a B2B staff member from the home office in Mason, Ohio. He had been with us all during the week and worked along side of us as well. He answered all sorts of questions from us about B2B, shared his testimony and some of his experiences at the different B2B locations around the world. He began to talk about their location in Jos, Nigeria, about their Oasis Education center and the orphanages that they are partnered with, some of the culture and obstacles that they face.
He mentioned a trip that would be October 21 to Jos, Nigeria. As he spoke about it, God broke my heart open and asked me to go. I have never before experienced such a direct calling in the deepest part of my soul. Throughout the rest of the day I struggled with being very willing to go, but feeling very inadequate and wondering why God would choose me to go when I still have so many areas in my heart and mind that need healing. By the end of the day the call had not only become stronger, but God had also provided reassurance to my heart that He can use whatever vessel he wishes. The cost of the trip will be enormous, but one of the things that God has taught me this week is that he will always provide a way to do what he has asked of you.
Want to be a part of the story?
Pray for the people and the locations that I have mentioned. Intercede on their behalf!
Pray for the Staff, interns and houseparents and pastors that have given up their entire lives to do the work that God has for them in Monterrey.
Pray for my next chapter as I make preparations and fund raise for my trip to Jos, Nigeria in October.
Go to www.back2backministries.org to find out more how you can get involved or give to the cause of widow and orphan care.
Pray about helping to sponsor my trip costs. The trip will be around $3,500 with most of the cost being airfare. My email is email@example.com.
Thanks for hanging in there and reading through to the end. I know it was like a mini novel but I hope that it has blessed you in some small way.