• When the poor become your friends

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    When we first moved back here, I saw the poor distinctly different.  They were the ones we were helping,  serving, and reaching out to.  Although I cared for them deeply, I did not see them as equals, and I honestly had no idea I felt that way.  It wasn’t till I heard it from a friends mouth.  A pastor from Canada had asked us for a project and we decided we wanted to build a house for  a lady who’s children were in the daycare I had worked at for the past year.  When this fellow Canadian talked about the lady and her family she referred to them as our “friends”.  I realized at that moment that I was not thinking of them as a friends but as just people we were helping.  I didn’t like it.   That was when I started to see things differently.  I now proudly call that same lady a dear friend and have since made many others in the community that she now lives in.  Since then a whole shift has gradually taken place in how I see and do many things since then and I wanted to share a few things my friends have unknowingly taught me.

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    When the poor become your friends…

    You hate calling them “the poor”.  I wouldn’t give any of my any other friends such demeaning labels, and I can’t stand my friends being known under such negative terms.  Sure my friends may not have much stuff, but they are hard working, intelligent people with beautiful personalities and names.  They each have a story to tell just like you and I do.  They don’t deserve to be looked down on in any way, or thought of  as mere statistic that no one can relate to.

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    When the poor become your friends…

    You stop carrying around your camera all the time looking for a good shot of the sad looking neighbourhood or meager living conditions.  How many times have you brought your camera over to a friends house and took photos of their dirty laundry, messy kids bedrooms or their kids after they had played out in the yard and were full of dirt?  Probably none because it would very offensive and intrusive to do so.  I am ashamed to say I have been guilty of exploiting my friends with my photos, but am proud to say I don’t do it any more.  I do bring my camera with me once and awhile, and I take the same kind of photos I would with any other friends… photos of birthday celebrations, of my kids playing with their friends, the crafts and artwork of a dear amiga, photos of new babies that I print off later as gifts to families who don’t have a camera (or many photos) or something I love about the beauty I see in their culture.   Most of the photos I take are of people I know by name and I have a good long standing relationships with.   All of the photos I take are with the permission of the person in the photo.  They aren’t to show off my good works or their different way of living.

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    When the poor become your friends…

    You don’t give them your junk.  Like many other families we try to get rid of things we do not use any more.  We always have an ongoing donation pile of clothes and shoes that have been outgrown or unused and an assortment of other things including toys, house wares, books, and decor to give away.  When you are used to being able to drop off your unwanted stuff at a local thrift store, or donation drop off centre, it’s pretty easy to drop off any old unwanted item.  We don’t have that option here.  We can either give it to a local ministry (where we personally know the people who work there) or to families that we know.  So basically our donations one way or another go to our friends.  That sure changes what you view is acceptable to give.  I refuse to give away anything that is broken, stained, has holes in it, works sometimes, is missing an important piece, is faded, ripped, expired or is just completely useless.  This may seem obvious, but believe me, it’s not.  I have been on the receiving end as an individual and representing a ministry many many times and have received all kinds of junk that had to be thrown out because it was not useful anymore.  If you don’t want it for any of the reasons mentioned above, no one else does either.  Don’t give your scraps to those who have less than you.  Send them to the curb.  If you want more thoughts on this topic please read a post my friend Carla wrote a couple of years ago after helping us sort through a bunch of donations where we were working.

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    When the poor becomes your friends…

    You spend your money differently.  I have a hard time being in bigs stores full of stuff I know most people don’t actually need.  I also have a hard time being on-line seeing all the new, trendy “must haves” such as clothes, purses, and baby stuff that are apparently considered “needs” in our rich, selfish home culture.  Some times I get sucked in and want those things too… but then I remember my friends.  The ones who made a make-shift baby crib with a crate and a hammock.  Or the ones who’s only “newish” clothes they get are the ones handed out to them in pity.  I remember my friends who hardly ever celebrate their kids birthdays because they simply can’t afford to.  Or the kids who wear the same stained, too small, school uniform 2 years in a row because a new one is too big of an expense for the family to afford.  I still get sucked in.  I still want nice things, and I am sure I will always like to make beautiful spaces for my family to find comfort and refuge in at the  of the day, but I refuse to spend a small fortune in doing so.  Buying and spending are no longer the centre of my life.   We try to live simply, give generously, and invest what we have in others and not ourselves.  We don’t alway do the right thing but we are very aware of the needs of others and are convicted that we can and should live differently.

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    When the poor become  your friends…

    You want to help better than you did before.  We have helped our friends in many different ways.  Many times its been in emergency situations such as a ride to the doctor, buying medicine when we knew they couldn’t afford it, a bag of food when we knew their was no work or even money to help pay a bill they were behind on.  We have even invested more in our friends by helping them get a new house built, providing school supplies and uniforms, celebrating their birthdays with gifts and parties, and having our home open for  them when they needed some where to be safe or dry.  All are things I would do for any friend who was in a difficult situation, because I care about them and don’t want to see them suffer.  Now I know that a lot of this help has caused more harm than it was ever meant too.  This help has cost my friends some of their pride and dignity.  It’s taught them to be be dependent on others instead of God, and has left them in a cycle of poverty they can not get out of.  Now it is clear that my friends need a better kind of help that will go further than the immediate need or emergency of the moment.  My friends need to learn new skills to be able to get better jobs.   Their kids need to be supported in their education with tutoring.  They need to learn how to budget, manage their money, and plan for the future.  They needs to be empowered to care of their own families and communities.  They need friends to help them find the resources to do this, and some one to cheer them on as they make some significant life changes and are transformed from being the helpless to becoming more helpful to those in need.  Not an easy task by any means, but if we really want to help our friends then we need to be willing to invest in them what they are worth receiving so they can have a better quality of life.

     

    Those are just a few of the important lessons I have learned from my dear friends.  I think that as long as we talk about “the poor” in vague impersonal terms as if they were less valuable than we are,  we will continue to treat them that way.  I am so glad God has transformed my view.  Maybe it’s time we all made new friends in unlikely places that challenge how we love and do life?

     

     

     

  • Las Aves Afterschool Program

    IMG_0319I was visiting my friend Celia a couple of weeks ago, she lives in Las Aves, a community I care about dearly.   While I was chatting with my friend, her brother walked in carrying a piece of paper.  His wife was already at the house, and as soon as he walked in, he went excitedly to show her.   I was’t really paying much attention, as I was busy chatting with my friend and her kids.

    Ask “la hermana” (the sister),” I heard them say a couple minutes later and suddenly the piece of paper was shoved into my hands.  Confused, I looked down to find there sons’s most recent second grade report card, resting on my fingers.

    “Is he passing?”  they asked me.

    I was happy to be able to report to them that he was passing, even though it was barely.  They smiled proudly.  School is important to them, they never got to go.  They can’t read… not even their own son’s report card, but  their son, he’s going to be different.

    I glanced at the notes of the teacher saying he needed to learn his letters better and that he should practice writing numbers from 1-200.  Skills he should have mastered in first grade, if he had had the help and support needed.

    I didn’t mention that to his parents, for the obvious reason… How would they be able to help him if they can not read and write themselves?

    Instead I asked an important question that could really make a difference for this boy “Has your son been choosen for the new after school program?”

    “Yes!” they told me excitedly.

    “They will help him improve where he needs help !” I told them, relieved to offer a real practical solution.

    A friend of ours started a very successful after school program, called Oasis in other community a few years ago, to support kids just like this one with their education.  Its a program that kids are  involved with after school twice a week that includes tutoring, help with home work, a bible lesson and a healthy meal or snack.  In the last couple years we have  talked about starting a similar program in Las Aves, as the need to support children in school is great.  Currently in that community of a few hundred people there is only one student in high school, as most kids drop out long before.  A few years ago, Saul and I made it our personal mission to ensure this boy finished high school, and have advocated on his behalf many times to make sure he had what was needed to be able to continue his education.  We knew that for his life to be different, to break the cycle of poverty in his family, and to keep him from field work he needed to finish school.  Thankfully, due to his hard work and persistence, and the generosity of local organizations and some dear friends of ours, he is going to graduate this June.  He has already registered in University for the upcoming year.  The thought of all he has accomplished and will continue to accomplish bring me to tears. This is so big.  So uncommon, for where he comes from.

    He is just one… but we dream of all the kids in his community to have the same opportunity.IMG_0208

    We are currently working on making this dream a reality, and we are helping to start an Oasis Las Aves after school program, that is scheduled to open the first week of April.  The local elementary school has hand picked the first 20 children with the most need, to be the first kids in the program.  There will be a teacher for every 5 children enrolled, and a cook to help with an afternoon snack.   We hope to grow and expand the program in the future, to include as many children as possible, and employ local people from the community.  Our friend Karly really took the initiative to get the ball rolling in starting the program, and we are supporting her in any way possible.   We have a building to use, staff in place, and we are eagerly waiting to open the doors in a few short weeks.  A generous donation was given to get the program started, but we want to see it run long term, grow to accept more children, and see all the children thrive with the loving support they need for many years to come.IMG_0189

    This is where you can help… Please consider being a part of a project that we truly believe in.  We have a goal to raise an additional $10,000 that will  ensure the program continues for the next 2 years.  So that in the future every family involved will have children that graduates from high school and continues their education, breaking cycles of poverty that have seemed impossible to get out of on their own.  This is the “what”  something we can all do to make a difference and bring change.

    Please join us.  You can help here.

     

    *Photo credits to Megan McCoy

  • Why or What?

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    Why does poverty exist? Asked my oldest son.  We had just stopped at the store where a sweet little girl not much older than Bri was sent to our car by her Mother, where she begged us to buy a bag of  mushy, pink tomatoes (which I bought, and then threw away, sigh).   Then pulling out of the parking lot, we saw a friend from Las Aves, a sweet old (like really old) lady carrying a large sack on her head, with her rowdy grandson trailing behind.  We knew it was filled with hand made items her and her daughter had made, and that she was headed to the park to sell in the Friday market.  We also knew she returned home many Fridays with not an extra peso in her pocket, despite all her hard effort to get there.

    I must admit, I don’t think much about the question of why there is poverty.  I know that God loves us enough to give us free will to live how we want.  As a result of that their is lot of things God never wanted us to experience, including poverty, sickness, deep sadness and so many other things.  When man choose to sin, he unknowingly chose life to be lot harder.  Poverty is just a result of that.  That’s what I told my son.

    His question rang in my heart all day… and stirred up another one, a much more important one, in my opinion.

    What are we going to do about it?

    This question has always been on my heart, and I imagine as long as I face the reality of people struggling to eat day to day, it will never leave.  At least I hope not.

    As follower of Jesus, I simply can not ignore those who live with so much need.

    Can you?

    If you are like me and can’t ignore those living without, please watch out for my next post… I have a way you can help!

  • The “M” Word

    I hardly ever use the “M” word when I describe myself and what I “do”.  Pretty much the only time you will me hear say it is when I am at the Mexico/US border, and am asked “What are you doing in Mexico?”  and I quickly reply “I’m a missionary”.  It gets me through with out any hassle.

    It’s not that I am embarressed to be a M…. you know.  I’m not.  I love that my “job” is serving Jesus in another country “full time”.  It’s just that I know I do not live up to the “Holy” status that comes along with that word.   Missionary’s are not saints.  Nope.  But some people think we are, and its hard living up to that unrealistic standard.

    The truth is, I am pretty normal.

    I don’t get up at 4 every day to pray.

    I’ve never seen anyone risen from the dead.

    Occasionally you may hear me say a bad word when I’m angry (gasp).

    I like Starbucks, shopping and Grey’s Anatomy (I can’t believe I just admitted that here).

    I have never done a 40 day fast or even been to bible school.

    I’m incredably unqualified for any type of holy title, and I am fully aware that I am not worthy to be up on any type of pedistle that other people try to put me on.

    I’m just like you.

    Fears, doubts, issues, unsure of myself, selfish and so much more.

    But here is the thing, what makes my life all the more beautiful.  You don’t have to be a special type of person to do good things.

    When Jesus showed up, He changed everything.  He came to a culture that was all about trying to be Holy, where those trying to live a godly  life were willing to do everything and anything possible to receive a righteous title…  Jesus came and put it all to a royal hault.

    “2 things,” he said.  Thats all that is required.

    Love me.

    Love people.

    That’s it.

    Sounds so simple and easy doesn’t it?

    Not so much.  He meant all people.  Not just the ones you like.

    He meant the rude ones, the smelly, the poor, the down right crazy ones, the judgemental ones that make you feel like crap,  the “friends” who talk behind your back, those family members you just can’t get along with, the ones that hurt you more than you ever thought imaginable, the ones you can’t understand and just don’t like being around.

    We are all in the same boat, titles and labels aside, learning to love like Jesus asks us to, because we believe in Him enough that we can’t ignore what He says.

    The good news is, we don’t have to do it alone.  Thank goodness.  He holds our hands and walks us through it.

    Love.

    Thats the mission.

    If you believe in Him, His message and mission… technically you are a missionary too.

    Welcome to the team.

    Now go and do something, because you were not made to stand on the side lines watching others do good.

     

    P.S.  I wear skinny jeans (not flowered patterned skirts or dresses).  I thought you should know.

  • Up Close – A New Thing

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    So how do you follow a post about dreaming when everything you thought was good falls apart shortly after?

    I didn’t know how or where to start a post like that, so I decided to stop writing for awhile.

    Sometimes things don’t go as you hoped or planned.  Even if you try your best, serve whole heartedly, and do things the best you know how, it is not enough.  I am not sure how to explain what ended our time serving at Welcome Home Outreach Ministries, because it is something I still don’t understand entirely.  We continue to have a great relationship with those that we worked and served along side with, and join with them every Monday night for a service in a local village.  We love Welcome Home and are thankful we had the opportunity to serve there while we could, but leaving was hard.  The situation was messy and hurtful, and not the way we wanted to leave serving with people we really loved and worked well with.  We trust God and His plans.  Nothing about following Jesus is particularly easy or comfortable, but some times I forget that.  We are willing to be broken, if it means we learn and can become more effective in loving and serving others.

    Part of that change involved us moving… again.  It was hard to leave the sweet little community that we lived in at Welcome Home, but we know it was the best for our family.  It was hard living in a place that needed to be available to people at all times.  It was hard to rest there.  We now live in a fairly large apartment over a cafe in the centre of town.  We are thankful that we found a comfortable place to live, that our big family can fit in.

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    We had a nice summer here in Mexico.  Saul worked for two different organizations helping with building houses for those in need.  He also recently started a new job with Live Diffrerent, a Canadian organization he has worked on and off with for the last few years.  He is looking forward to his position as community adviser and hopes to able to be an influence toward making a positive impact in community development.

    The kids are all doing good.

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    Gloria works full time in a nearby Sushi restaurant.  She is very hard working and responsible.   Her boss loves her, which is no surprise to us, as she is truly a gem.

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    Moy is continuing school at home. we are hoping he can finish the year so he can go into a public high school next year.  He is growing into a compassionate, hard working young man who has a heart to serve others.

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    Kayden started grade 3, he does very well in school and has just started drum lessons again, which is is really excited about. He is funny and learning to be more responsible at home and school.

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    Brielle started kindgarten, she has made lots of new friends, loves her teacher, and  is doing really well. This girl is natural leader who is very compassionate and sensitive to others.

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    I am thankful to be focusing the majority of my time on my home and family, without an extra outside work load to deal with.  I continue to dream of ways to serve women and children in more practical ways in the future, and look forward to when those dreams get to become a reality.  For now I am content to focus on my husband and the kids I have been entrusted with.

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    Thanks to all of you who have supported our family with encouragement, prayers, and gifts.  We know we could not continue to serve full time with out your continual support.

    Isaiah 43:18-19 (NLT)

    But forget all that –

    it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.

    For I am about to do something new

    See, I have already begun!  Do you not see it?

    I will make a pathway through the wilderness

    I will create rivers in the wasteland.