Today is a very special day! It’s what we call “Release Day” in the industry. MIKESCHAIR released their sophomore CD today, A Beautiful Life! They’re actually on their way down right now to celebrate with us over the next several days. It’s not a coincidence that the CD Release and the shoe wrap are both happening this week. The boys were in the studio late last year, and the earlier part of this year, recording their new record. We knew A Beautiful Life would be finished sometime this year, and we intentionally planned for them to be here this week, releasing their new record, celebrating with our community, while collecting shoes for Honduras.
We leave for Honduras next month, hand-delivering lots of hugs, laughter, smiles, socks and shoes that are so generously given by our JOY family. Thinking about the boys being here tomorrow, preparing for the shoe wrap over the next few days, and praying about our upcoming trip…. I took a few minutes to go and re-live a day that happened last September in Guatemala. After re-reading, I can’t NOT share with you. If you read this post last year when I wrote it, I hope you’ll read it again and join me in crying out for these kids! How wonderful if there were many of us praying specifically for them, at the same time, this very night! If you’ve never read it before, I hope you’ll take a peek at the heart of our shoe trips and see how God wants these kids to know they are not forgotten. We pray every year, “God, be BIG!” And He makes that prayer look small. I originally told you about this Thursday in 2 posts (last year), but I’m going to combine them below. This is a day I will never forget as long as I live. I feel all the same emotions sitting here at my kitchen table re-reading these entries tonight, as I did almost one year ago….
September ’10. Guatemala.
I wish there was a universal language that adequately articulated what is felt and experienced on mission trips. But sadly, there isn’t. I want so desperately to share what happened on Thursday in Guatemala, but I know I won’t be able to capture it totally for you. But I’m gonna try….
On Thursday, we visited Hogar Solardario. This is a new facility that has been open for about 9 months. The Guatemalan government shut down 2 of it’s orphanages, and moved them to the same property as San Gabriel. So now there are 3 orphanages all on one property that is referred to as “City of Children”. There are 800 kids here. Boys, girls, all ages. The existing San Gabriel facility (former prison) has a new coat of paint, and does look nicer than when I was here 2 years ago. The newer, adjacent part (where the 2 other orphanages, Manchen & Eliza Martinez are now) is nicer, but nice is a relative term. It has the look and feel of a prison. Metal doors, barbed wire fences, armed guards, and the like. The living conditions are sterile at best. There are no parents, only government workers doing the best they can, I suppose, to give these children their basic needs. Food, water, and shelter.
The day will best be described in two parts. And this scripture will set the stage:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, powers, and world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness and evil in the heavenly places. -Ephesians 6:12
Part 1: Morning.
We arrived at the City of Children, and after passing through the gate, we were greeted by 2 cute little boys who rushed the bus as soon as we opened the doors. I just happened to be sitting near the door and I was the lucky one that got the big hug as the 1st one ran up on the bus and straight into my arms. He melted our hearts.
We began to unload our supplies. Shoes, crafts, guitars, Nate’s drum thingy, a cajon, I believe it’s called, soccer ball for our now world-famous game! etc. We hung around in the parking lot longer than normal. Brynn, our leader, was talking with the orphanage staff about how we should divide up and get started. The team didn’t realize it at first, but the challenges of the day had begun. The workers were telling Brynn that we couldn’t do shoes, that we could drop them off and the workers would give them out to the kids. I still don’t know all of the specifics (and at this point it doesn’t matter), but there was certainly opposition that she had to overcome. Once Brynn got back to the team, she told us that instead of splitting into 4 teams (as we typically would), we’d need to split into 2 teams … one going to San Gabriel, the other going to Eliza Martinez. Both orphanages housed boys. But, it’d be shoes only. No story, no bible verse, no music, no craft, no games. We were disappointed, but knew we had to do as they had said. There was a heaviness about the place and once we entered San Gabriel, the heaviness in the air continued. As I mentioned earlier, I noticed that there was a new coat of paint on the walls, but for the most part the living conditions had not improved since the last time I was there. We were told to organize the shoes this way, then that way, do them here, do this, and don’t do that, etc. etc. We were frustrated because by now we had been at the orphanage well over an hour, and had yet to have any face to face contact with the boys. Many of us on the team were already asking God to step in quickly and turn this thing around! The government workers thought they were in charge. But, of course, we knew differently.
We were eventually allowed to give the boys a new pair of shoes. Once we were done with shoes, we had some time left. The atmosphere had started to relax a little and we were hanging out and talking with the boys. The man that was in charge began to smile and engaged us in conversation. I believe he was truly grateful that we had brought shoes. We asked permission to share a story with the boys and maybe sing a couple of songs. He said, “YES!” Mike & Sam ran to the bus and grabbed their guitars. They came back to the boys waiting patiently, sitting in a circle. They started singing “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, followed by “Keep Changing the World”. They especially like the rapping part towards the end of the song! Of course, LeCrae wasn’t with us. But Sam’s got it down! After the music, Ivonne, (another AMAZING listener who, by the way, fluently speaks Spanish) got up and began to talk to them about Jesus. After Ivonne shared what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus, she asked Tyra to come and lead the boys, that wanted to, in a prayer that would begin the relationship with Jesus, she’d just spoken about.
I was leaning against a tree in tears. In 3 hours, we went from “absolutely no shoes! to singing Open the Eyes to Tyra leading them in the prayer of salvation.” WOW! Only God. God, we asked you to be BIG. And YOU were.
We left for lunch, emotionally spent. It had definitely felt like a spiritual battle (and I hesitate using that phrase because, in my opinion, it’s over used). But the oppression in this place was, and is very real, no doubt. But, if God is FOR us, who can be against us? We were absolutely poured out, overwhelmed, and humbled at the transformation in 3 short hours.
However, God was only beginning to write the story for Thursday. His command performance was yet to come.
Part 2. Afternoon.
We arrived back from lunch emotionally drained. We all knew it’d be the Holy Spirit that would have to energize us for the afternoon. The workers directed us to an amphitheather type building where we could sort & organize the shoes for about 250 girls from Manchen. But first a little about Manchen.
The last time I was in Guatemala, I visited Manchen in Antigua. Of all the orphanages we visited in 2008, I didn’t like this one. I remember wanting to leave as soon as we got there. That’s a terrible thing to say and feel, and I’m so sorry for it now. But it being my first time visiting a government run teen girls home, I didn’t know what to expect. I’m way over-using the term “heaviness”, but I don’t know any other word to use. In this home were the toughest of the tough. The toughest girls, coming from the toughest situations, acting tough with one another. There were distinct social classes and you could tell who was running the place and who wasn’t. I saw a lot of dominance and intimidation. It was also the first time I had come face to face with so many 12, 13, & 14 year old girls who were pregnant by their dads, brothers, uncles, or some other close relative. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was almost better when their assailant had been a stranger. At least their wounding wasn’t inflicted by someone they trusted. Yes, how horrible when you start looking for silver linings with girls whose innocence had been ripped from them. I know these words are hard to read. Imagine standing in the middle of it. My skin was literally crawling. The Holy Spirit, living in me, was grieved. I was grieved.
I do however, remember meeting a girl named Iris. Iris was 17 and had just given birth to her daughter Jocelin. I’m not positive, but based on what the Buckner staff person told us that day, Iris was one of the girls who had not known her attacker. When I met Iris, I just kept hugging and loving on her. Because of her brokeness and fraility of just having had a baby, I think it was a safe place for me, as well. I didn’t feel like I was fighting the spiritual war with her the way I was with some of the tough girls. Hear me say clearly, these girls act the only way they know to act. They’ve been dealt an unspeakable hand, and I remember being so angry with God and crying out to Him, pleading with Him to take their pain away. He reminded me that He is the Ancient of Days, He sees everything. And there is coming a day…. And of course, who was I? My sins deserve(d) the same punishment.
Here’s a picture of me with Iris and Jocelin from two years ago.
Last week, at the amphitheater in the City of Children, the new location for Manchen, we started passing out shoes. The first couple of girls that I put shoes on were incredibly angry. They didn’t want to be there, they didn’t want the shoes, and they certainly didn’t want some chick acting like a pair of shoes would make everything OK. A new pair of shoes doesn’t -and would never – heal their wounds; if anything, it was almost insulting. Again, I couldn’t wait to leave. I told myself that this particular group was not my gifting; God had called me to love another age group/set of orphans.
After a few minutes, I heard Brynn, our leader, call out my name. Brynn was sitting with a young girl and I went over and knelt down in front of them. Immediately I recognized Iris! Brynn told me that Iris had recognized me. I looked at Iris and said, “Really? you remember me?! Oh my goodness!! I totally remember you Iris.” Iris told me, through Brynn that I was the second group that had come through after she had arrived at Manchen. She told me that she remembered me because “I had given her lots and lots of hugs after she’d had her baby.”
Tears. I stopped dead in my tracks. Ashamed, I asked God once again to forgive me.
I sat with Iris for the remainder of the time allotted for shoes. She told me that Jocelin was two and that she was in the toddler part of the orphanage. Sadly, she only gets to see her daughter twice a week. She went on to tell me that the next day was her 19th birthday, and that she didn’t know what she’d do next. Girls “age out” of the orphanage at 18, but the judge had allowed her to stay an extra year. She asked Brynn and me for one thing for her birthday. She asked us to kiss her baby for her. Jocelin, her baby who was only one wall over from where we were sitting in the amphitheather. We promised her we would.
With a heavy heart, we finished up shoes and walked over to portion of the City of Children that belongs to Manchen. Through two metal doors, guards at each one, we entered their living space. The boys from MIKESCHAIR pulled out their guitars, violin, cajon, and shakers. They began singing the songs that had become the “standards” of the week. After they were done with a few of the songs, the girls started chanting “Otra, Otra, Otra” which means “another” in Spanish. Now if I was a girl their age, I’d want to hear more too! Actually, the team was right there with the girls… we wanted more!! It doesn’t hurt that these guys are incredibly gifted, crazy talented, have huge hearts, and are being obedient to the call God has on their lives. And it ain’t always glamorous, I can tell you that for sure. And one additional sidenote: I canNOT imagine getting on a plane and taking this trip with anybody else next year. That will be hard. (editor’s note: I’m not gonna have too!! They’re coming to Honduras with me! yay. yay. YAY!)
As they sang one song after another, you could see the outer layer of ice begin to melt with these girls. That’s what music does. It reaches deep within the soul that words sometimes can’t. It prepares the heart. Yes, there were still some very un-godly things happening 20 feet from me. But for the most part, the girls were engaging the music. We started singing “Open the Eyes of My Heart” (there’s that song again!) and they sang it out in their language.
When the boys finished, Ivonne came up and began to talk to them about Jesus. She truly was a huge gift on this trip!! She spoke with such authority, and could talk to them flawlessly without an interpreter. Powerful. After speaking for a few minutes, Ivonne invited Tyra to come up and lead the girls – again those who wanted to – in the prayer of salvation. Many bowed their heads and seemed to be taking seriously what Tyra was praying, and were praying right along with her. She did a beautiful job explaining what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus.
From the time we stepped foot behind the walls of the City of Children, and specifically Manchen this afternoon, many of us on the team had been praying. With everything I had in me, I was pleading: “Lord, we invite You here to this place. God, come. Be Big. Be Mighty! Show up! Show off!! Pour out your Spirit, Lord. God, we give you this god-less place. You worked miraculously this morning. Do it again, Lord! Do it again!” All this, while 20 feet from me, girls were displaying their brokeness. Clearly, the spiritual battle was continuing. Jesse from MIKESCHAIR, sitting near me, was witnessing the same thing…..
Ivonne asked Jesse to come and teach the girls John 3:16. That had been 1 of Jesse’s “jobs” this trip, so he got up and walked to the front. He began to speak to the girls, but his words were a bit jumbled. He looked like he was having trouble focusing. He looked at Ivonne and said, “I have no words.” Ivonne translated to the girls: “He has no words for you. He’s overwhelmed.”
And that’s when it happened.
There are few times in my life I feel I’ve witnessed someone speaking as if they were hearing straight from the throne room of Grace. But that’s EXACTLY what I was seeing before my very eyes. Jesse paused, and then let it roll. I don’t remember the exact words he said, or in the order he said them, but this is pretty close:
“We know you have been hurt. We know you are wounded. We know people that you love are the ones who have hurt you. We know that terrible things have happend to you. We love you. We want you to know that you have a Heavenly Father that has seen every single thing that has ever happened to you. He doesn’t like it. He loves you. He wants you to know that one day your pain will be wiped away. One day He will heal you. He wants to heal you now. One day He will make all things right. You are beautiful to Him. Your life is worth something. You are the apple of His eye. He knows everything about you. And He loves you so very much.”
Jesse continued on, and it was as if he was asking God, “what do you want me to say next?” while Ivonne was translating to the girls what he’d just said. It was beautiful. Jesse started crying and could barely get the rest of his words out. The girls were visibly moved, and the spirit of the Lord was in this place! And we all know that where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! There is no doubt about it, some chains were broken that day. I believe it with all that I am. After Jesse spoke, our time with the girls was coming to an end. The girls were crying. We were crying. Jesse walked to the side and they ALL swarmed him. They were hugging him, telling him they loved him. He had done something I don’t think many others have done. He ACKNOWLEDGED their pain. He didn’t sugar coat it. He didn’t give them cliche Christian answers. He told them what they already knew….they were wounded.
But their wounding didn’t make them worthless. God was in this place. And on this day just outside Guatemala City, inside their prison-like orphanage, even if only for a moment, they felt Hope.
I will forever treasure this picture below. If I had been able to take it earlier, you would’ve seen dozens and dozens of girls surrounding him. But because we were praying with girls and “weeping with those who weep,” I was only able to take this one at the very end. Jesse was a vessel for Jesus this day. Ironically, he had shared Matthew 11:25 with us that morning: “when we try to be wise, we see nothing.” But … Jesse was very wise last Thursday. He said “yes” and then listened as God spoke.
Oh, and Jocelin? Promised fulfilled….