Last Thursday evening I found myself doing a form of the chicken dance, with a four year old I had just met, on the jet bridge of of my ATL to CLE flight. I think I am losing my mind although she looked at me and said “I like you.” So hey, at least I am making new friends and keeping stranger’s kids entertained. To this point in the day, it had been 10 hours of extreme closeness with strangers and long lines and hurry and heartache as I replayed the previous 3 days in my mind and the miles slipped away.
I was returning from a short trip to Guatemala and Casa Bernabe as I have accepted a new job. I am the new Development Director for Friends of Children Everywhere, the stateside non-profit that provides approximately 80% of the funding for Casa Bernabe. And while I am so, so excited about this, the weight of what this actually means is settling like a mantle on my shoulders.
During my first visit to Casa Bernabe, about a year and a half ago, I was struck by the image of this place of care and respite literally being like a city on a hill. Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. “ This place is a beacon of hope in a city that is filled with so much hopelessness. A place for these traumatized children to feel safe and loved.
According to a recent article in Christianity Today, in 2015, Guatemala had the second-highest rate of child murders in the world. Of the crimes against children that get reported—including murder, rape, kidnapping—most go unpunished (88%). An estimated 2 in 5 children are malnourished. Among indigenous children, that rises to 4 in 5. This is the load that these children at Casa Bernabe are carrying with them.
My heart nearly broke during a visit earlier this year when I watched four young brothers being received into Casa Bernabe. The care with which not only the staff, but the other children, showered them with, to immediately being healing the broken places that they came from touched the deepest part of my soul.
My heart is so raw and to be quite honest it is exhausting. It hurts to feel so much…
I came face to face with this ache again this trip and my heart has continued to be heavy with the hurt since I have been home. These boys are the same age and one has a hope and a future and the other…well…I will not stop until he does as well.
This is why I am doing what I am doing. These are the faces of my passion, of my heart and there is much work to be done.
I would welcome the opportunity for opening the door to conversations so that I can share more of this passion with you. You may find that it captivates your heart in the same way it has captured mine. If you would like to get on my calendar for the coming year to have me come and share, with your church or organization, all of the exciting things that we have accomplished thus far at Casa Bernabe and the needs that we have going forward I would be excited to do that as well! God is writing quite a story.
A lot can change in a year…when I got to Casa Bernabe, the first thing I did was head up the hill to see CJ.* I had been looking forward to this day for the last year, and when he came to the door, here was this grown boy, looking eye to eye with me. Still shy, but with a smile for me that made his eyes shine and my mama-heart melt. As the week went on, from across the church or the campus, his eyes would seek mine out and a smile and wave were quick to follow. To be there again, not as a stranger this time but as someone who belonged to him, I just don’t have words…
I still remember being told, as I walked in oblivion up the hill on the day I met him, “He just needs a little love.” That was about 5 minutes before God completely rocked my world and wrecked my little existence. Since that moment, we, as a family, having been pouring love into his life every possible chance we get.
To love and be loved and to belong to someone, even if it’s a long way away…a year ago this 13 year old boy was struggling, he was praying for a family, hungry for a relationship. To hear how much better he is doing now, to hear that he is more self-confident and outgoing, and to know that his easy smile has returned over the last year was humbling to me. Loving from a distance is so hard and there have been many days when I wished I could do so much more but small things with great love have made a tremendous impact…
Haz Cosas Pequeñas Con Gran Amor…Do Small Things With Great Love
Maybe it’s a bag of jerky, a pack of sharpies, or a t-shirt, some photographs, a handful of letters, a whole lot of love and prayers for the right words to say to this sweet child…small things with great love, packaged up and sent south to Guatemala, every single chance I have gotten over the last year.
A lot of different people have said it in a lot of similar ways because its truth runs deep. We can’t change the world, but we can certainly change the world for one person. It doesn’t have to be hard…it doesn’t have to be big…
If you are interested in learning more about visiting Casa Bernabe, sponsoring a child at the orphanage, or contributing to our November 2018 Casa Bernabe trip as we head back down to Love Boldly, please let me know. I would love to share this passion with you.
In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or planning for it. Simply put: Love does! ~ Bob Goff
Our newest t-shirt design because it’s one of the biggest lessons I have learned…God can take these small, seemingly insignificant things and magnify them beyond what we could imagine. This design is only available at DoGoodStudio.org and all proceeds will benefit our November 2018 Casa Bernabe trip.
I am home. I have been for over a week now. The suitcases are empty. The coffee has all been delivered. The laundry is (almost) caught up. The house is (almost) back in order. The pictures have all been printed, photo-journaled, and the photo album on its new coffee table home, a display and a reminder. And yet here I sit, still trying to figure out what happened 10 days and 1900 miles ago. I was not even going to go on this trip and now, as it was last year, I am afraid that life won’t ever be the same again. Then again, I am even more afraid that it will. Does that even make sense?
“How was it?” A question so easily asked, but the weight of the explanation that it compels me to give is so large. A full emotional explanation would be impossible. The far reaching effects and implications of this week are continuing to unfold and make themselves just barely visible. Whisps of smoke and hope that slip through clenched fingers just when you think you are able to begin to make sense of them.
What can I tell about this place except that it will break you. This sickening feeling of broken-hearted-joyfulness is one that I just want to hold on to, to not forget, to not let fade, even as the cover lays closed on the photo album and days turn to weeks. God is doing a mighty work within the walls of Casa Bernabe and the walls of my heart. I cannot escape being overwhelmed by that. This is the collective experience of two trips and many a servants’ heart, not only mine. Tears. Lots and lots of tears. Not sweet, leaking eye tears but ugly, crying sobs. Broken hurts but broken heals. My heart has been mended back together, stronger and patched with the tapestry of this beautiful country, the smiles of a group of boys and love from this woven together family. It changes you, being broken, and not everyone will understand it.
This shy boy, who’s simple words have shattered me has also shown me a love within myself that I don’t understand. A love I didn’t know I was capable of, a love that is bigger than me and hopes in the impossible. A love that I wasn’t looking for but now can’t imagine living without, whatever that ends up looking like.
This was a hard trip. It was both emotionally and physically draining. My body and my heart would hurt at the end of the day. As a team we accomplished much, crossing many items off of a “to do” list and yet barley scratching the surface. We spent a day hauling metal roofing up the hill towards the clinic, being able to take part in a double blessing as Casa Samuel got a new roof and the old roofing was to be given away to families outside the orphanage who could use it. Painting the art room and offices were a welcome change of project after the roofing. Paintbrushes and rollers aren’t nearly as heavy as sheet metal. The monotony of a wall preferable to the monotony of a hill.
In addition, throughout the week, members of our team took turns traveling two hours away to build a 10 x 10 block structure so that three children from Casa Bernabe could be reunited with their family. These days were tough, filled with manual labor that our bodies and minds were not accustomed to. On my day, concrete day, I hauled countless buckets of sand and gravel down a steep and twisty path and then pulled buckets of water, necessary for the concrete, up from the well until my muscles protested and ached. As I walked the hill throughout the day, I watched young girls wash laundry by hand, young boys carry back breaking loads of wood to sell, old women cook over fires on the ground, and at the end of the day I walked away carrying the weight of their reality. There is so much about this day that my heart continues to struggle though reconciling. And yet, there is the certain knowledge that God’s love was evident in every bucket of sand and water we hauled.
As hard as some days were though the trip was filled with the lightness of laughter, the sheer unbridled joy from the kids that is so contagious. It was hard, but we had fun. Be it through a mouth full of marshmallows while playing chubby-bunny with the kids on the basketball court, pitting team against team during an afternoon of paintball with a group of teenage boys, sharing a meal of a Big Mac and fries, coloring a picture, kicking a soccer ball, or celebrating the week with an ice cream party and some whip cream antics, we had fun! New relationships were built and others were grown. The language barrier disappears in these situations – laughter is universal! Love trumps all!
The highlight of my week though was not some big, sparkly, grand gesture moment. My highlight was being, not just invited, but welcomed, into a home close to my heart, given space on the couch to sit shoulder to shoulder, surrounded by family, to do something as simple as watch a movie. As I sat there, the awkward, visiting American, who has a tendency to just smile and nod dumbly was gone. God worked this beautiful moment (with a little help from English movie subtitles) that touched the deepest part of my heart where we were sharing life, normal, everyday, life and I didn’t want it to end. This moment wasn’t planned or staged or organized and for that I am so grateful. Come in friend and share life.
I wasn’t going on this trip. The timing, financing, and lack of preparation were all wrong. Saying no to this last minute opportunity to fill a vacant spot, just 3 weeks after the holidays, in the midst of moving our family of 4 and living in the mess of major home renovations, was certainly understandable. But I went and now I am home and I know that these few paragraphs and strung together words can’t do justice to what God is (and has been) doing. The picture is so big.
More than anything, here is what I want to convey to you from this trip. I don’t want to be Jonah. Traveling in the belly of a whale, while more spacious than economy class, is not preferable to being available and obedient to God. “No” is many times the easy answer. “No” may even be the answer that makes the most sense in our orderly lives, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right answer. Two questions that He has asked me in my past have been resurrected and keep cycling through my head. First, “If not you, then who?” and “Do you trust me?” Seriously God? This wasn’t new information, just a much-needed reminder.
Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I gave more of myself during this trip than I would have imagined possible, but you just do it. You keep moving, hauling one more piece of roofing up the hill or one more bucket of sand down, you keep saying “Yes” to what God asks you to do. You give until it hurts, love until you think your heart will break, and God makes it possible to just keep going, giving, moving, serving and loving. In the exhaustion, physical and emotional, you begin to see more of Him and less of you.
God needs you. It’s ok to be wary, be cautious, be scared. Just make yourself available.
“I’ll go.” “No, I can’t go.” “Ok, I will go.” “No, it’s just not going to work.” This was the back and forth of my recent decision to go back to Guatemala. I had said no to this trip at least 5 times for very valid reasons and yet the opportunity and question “Will you go?” continued to come back around. And then I got an early Christmas gift from Juan Carlos with a note that read in part “May God bless you for all you have done in my life. I love you very much.” And suddenly none of those reasons mattered anymore. The only thing that mattered was this boy.
It’s almost been a year since I was last there and we have continue to nurture and grow this relationship despite the miles and language barriers.
Two days ago found the tipping point in my decision to return to Guatemala and I leave in less than a month. My heart is absolutely bursting with excitement and anticipation and more than a little bit of panic as to how we are going to pull this together so quickly. I am looking forward to what God has in store for this trip. It took him awhile for me to get the right answer to the question of “Will you go?” but we finally got to the “Yes.” Last year, God rocked my world (you can read all about it and meet Juan Carlos, if you haven’t yet, here) and this year, with eyes wide open, I have put my heart on notice.
We are working to put together some really fun surprises for the kids while we are there this year – quite possibly, among other things, a trip to the zoo and a pizza/glow party for the entire orphanage!
We need two things – first and foremost – please pray. I am much more anxious about the language barrier than I was last year and because of the timing , or lack there of, I have to pull a lot of things together very quickly. Please also pray for the team that is going down. We have a lot of “first-timers” and everything they are about to experience takes a lot of bandwidth to process. Pray that we can help them to do that. And pray for the kids, that we would be able to touch their hearts in a way that lets them know they are loved. Secondly, I need to put together the funding necessary to make all of these extras happen. Would you consider being part of this? We have set up a fundraiser through our non-profit Love Runners and Pure Charity in an effort to pull all of this off in this short amount of time. By combining our efforts, no matter the size of the donation, we will have a huge impact on the lives of the children at Casa Bernabe! You can make your tax-deductible donation here and help us reach our goal of $1500 by January 8, 2018.
From the bottom of my heart – THANK YOU SO MUCH! Have a wonderful Christmas and watch for details of our upcoming trip!
Cease Striving…Be still…Know God (Ps 46:10) Sounds peaceful, right? Peace-filled is more accurate. "Still" has little to do with activity and everything to do with state of mind. Welcome to my crazy life!