I will not leave you as orphans

After I found more team members for the toddler room, Shaun walked me to the infant room.  There were babies everywhere. At least a dozen. There was also a boy who wasn’t a baby at all. He was special needs, still wearing a diaper, and a onesie that could no longer snap, but now fit him as a snug shirt. (in the picture I posted a few days ago, he is wearing a red shirt; that was later put on him). He waved at me as I walked in.  It was abundantly clear that of all the babies who got little to no attention, this boy got even less. If his wave could’ve spoken, it would’ve said, “look at me! I am here! please somebody see me.”  I greeted him with a kiss on the forehead.  He raised his hands and reached for me. They were all reaching for me.  Shaun & I walked through the 4 rows of cribs that made 2 aisles.  In the very first crib were 2 newborns. I immediately noticed the one on the left (remember this for later). She was BEAUTIFUL!! Absolutely perfect. Perfect lips. Perfect fingers. Perfect nose. And perfectly sleeping.  I walked though and looked at the rest of the babies.  Most were special needs; or “without potential” as they are labeled.  Their life is their crib. One little boy had a tumor on the top of his head the size of a lemon. There were dozens of others, some with tubes, some not. They were all either listless or asleep.

Like the toddlers, I wanted these babies to be held. I left the room to find more team members. A mixture of anger and overwhelming grief were my two emotions. I found Pat, Lesley, Audrey, Gwen and Marci. As much as I tried to prepare them for what they would see, there really is no way you can do that. When you enter the room and see the conditions, babies on the floor, babies in their cribs; rows & rows of babies, it simply takes your breath away.  We walked through the door, and I watched my friend’s eyes simultaneously fill with tears. Each went to a baby; some scooped up two. My friend, Gwen reached down to pick up Colvin (we later learned) as if she were picking up her own son for the very first time (she has 2 grown ones). Colvin was the one with the lemon sized tumor.  The perfect newborn in the front crib was still sleeping. Marci got down in the floor with the special needs boy and had 2 more on each hip. I joined her with 2 others.  We were all just rocking, crying, rocking, and crying some more.  After twenty minutes or so, I knew what we needed. We needed Jesse.

jesse playing for the babies

Again, like the toddler, I peeled babies off of me and handed them to my friends. I ran downstairs and said, “Jesse, get your violin and come with me NOW!”  We ran back upstairs. Jesse – just like the rest of us – had the same reaction when he walked through the door for the first time.  Seriously, it takes your breath away. Your eyes are seeing the conditions, but your head and heart are rejecting it.  You can’t wrap your brain around the fact that this really exists. Jesse, definitely still processing what he was seeing, pulled out his violin, looked at me and asked, “what should I play?” Instinctively I said, “Amazing Grace.”

When Jesse began to play, the sweetest aroma filled the room. The babies who could crawl or walk, moved in a little closer. The ones we were holding, sank into our arms a little deeper.  For the next 15 minutes, we held babies to “How Great Thou Art,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “Jesus Loves Me,” and “It is Well.”  During, “It is Well,” I lost it completely.  It wasn’t  well with my soul. There was nothing about this place or this room that was well with my soul. If anything, I wanted Jesus to come back right then and there.  After a few more songs, Mike, Sam & Nate came to us. They had been playing for the toddler room.  The music continued. Music has always been a key part of these trips. Today it was therapy. If you could’ve seen how these babies responded to the boys playing, you would’ve been amazed. The calm. The peace. You could physically feel the healing power of music. I  glanced over at the crib, and the little sleeping beauty that I’d been keeping my eye on was still sleeping. After a few songs, Mike wasn’t even singing anymore. He and Jesse were just playing. They’d lost Sam to baby holding. Nate was already in the floor holding two.  I wanted to freeze frame this moment. I was witnessing pure and undefiled religion in the eyes of the Father.

Holy Ground

And then I heard someone say, “Sam, look at me,” … meaning they were taking a picture. I looked over and Sam had MY baby! :) I smiled at him, and said, “No, Sam, she’s mine!! I’ve been waiting for her to wake up for almost an hour!”  He knew it was a righteous jealousy. :)  I eventually made my way to this precious little girl, and held her as if I really could bring her home. Gwen was still holding Colvin, and we held our babies in the back of the nursery as Mike & Jesse continued to play.  We swayed and rocked those babies to the music….the thing that mothers do when we hold babies. It’s instinctive.  Almost simultaneously, we asked each other, “I wonder what their names are?”  We’d decided that if we couldn’t find out, we’d name them ourselves. Because we both needed to have a name for these babies.  Colvin was going to be Jose’ and my baby was going to be Isabella.

gwen & colvin

A little later, Shaun came in and told me we’d need to leave in about 10 minutes.  The tears hadn’t stopped flowing since I first stepped foot in this room, but they were really flowing now. I asked God, “Lord, please please please let me know who she is when we’re in Heaven one day. Lord, please let her walk up to me and say ‘I’m the little baby girl you held that day.'”  I told Mike & Jesse we had time for 1 more song. They’d been playing instrumentally this whole time.  So, with no words – only music – they began “Someone Worth Dying For.”  Oh my goodness, that song has never sounded sweeter to my ears.  Emotions were already tender, and we were clinging to the truth: one day there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more goodbyes. When the boys were finished and putting away their guitar & violin, I said to the team, “Look at this little girl. Because when we’re all in Heaven one day, I want y’all to be there when the Lord lets me know who she is.”

We only had a few minutes left. And even though Gwen and I had named our babies, that really wasn’t settling for us. We both agreed we had to know their names before we left.  One of the orphanage workers was back in the adjoining room. They’d mostly left us be with the babies.  One of our interpreters was there now, too, as we were all saying our goodbyes.  We asked the interpreter if she’d ask the worker to come over to our side of the room. She met us at the little gate that separated the rooms.  As you have read, Gwen’s baby boy was Colvin.  After we got Colvin’s name, we asked about my baby girl. The interpreter said, “this little baby…what is her name?” The worker pointed to my baby and said, “this baby?” We said, “Si. Si.”  She said, “su nombre es Carmen.”

All I will ever remember about that moment is looking at Gwen and both of us letting out an audible sob. Her name was Carmen! We couldn’t believe it. The baby that I was first drawn to when I walked into the nursery. Her name was Carmen! If ever I wanted to take a baby, it was now. I’m not sure if I know what weeping really is, but I was in the back of this nursery holding this baby crying uncontrollably.

But it was time to go. I didn’t have a choice.

"car car" has a whole new meaning

Laying her back down in that crib, was one of THE HARDEST things I’ve ever had to do in my life.  My heart wasn’t just in pieces. It was out of my chest and in the crib with Carmen.  I couldn’t look back. We walked out the nursery and down the steps. I was literally hyper-ventilating and could not catch my breath. We looked back up to see a little boy peering out the window at us. That only made it worse. I walked through the courtyard, into a hallway towards the front gate to try and catch my breath, hoping for a moment of respite. I didn’t find one. A truck had just pulled up delivering another newborn.

“I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” -John 14:18.

Emotionally, physically and spiritually depleted, that was the only thing I hold onto.

i will always remember this moment


sweet pat's heart was breaking too

jesse & another sweet pea

they are still there….

As I mentioned in earlier posts, yesterday afternoon was a really hard day. I said I would share when I get home. And I will.  But I had a chance to write for a bit today…

As I began to journal, I realized this will have to be a 2-parter. (I’m getting good at those on mission trips). There’s so much I want to share with you. I’m struggling with being completely honest – or – softening the truth a bit.  The reason I would soften would be filtering sensitivities to governments, government workers, and the buckner in-country staff of which I have huge respect & admiration (the work they do here is hard. they are the unsung heroes!!!)

But I am choosing to lay it out there, as I saw and experienced the orphanage we visited yesterday afternoon. But even with that said, my words will fall woefully short in painting the picture for you. It’ll end up being a black & white at best.

looking from the inside out

Hands down, yesterday was the hardest day I’ve ever experienced on a shoe trip in 4 years. If there’s a notch above homeless, this orphanage was it. When I say food, water, clothing (barely) & shelter; I mean food, water, clothing and shelter. That’s it.

Besides the one little boy with open sores from head to toe and an eye that had been severely wounded at some point in the past , we were greeted by no one when we arrived. Hear me say, we don’t deserve to be greeted, nor do we expect it. But most times the children are playing in the yard as we walk through the gate, or at least we see the director or a worker. But not here. It could’ve been deserted except for the one little boy, as far as we knew.

As we walked through the hallway into the courtyard, we entered the “prison.” We were standing in the middle of a two-story building, a perfect square with multiple rooms, barred windows, and locked doors. I walked past a couple of windows, and lots of little eyes looked back at me. The children had already been split into groups and each team was shown which room they would serve. The green team (my team, but mostly I’m a floater) went to our assigned room. We didn’t have the names or shoes sizes of the children, so we took construction paper, traced their feet, and found sizes based on the tracing. The kids were sitting on 2 sides, backs against the walls. The room had bare walls, terra-cotta tile, and that was pretty much it. Oh, there was one column in the middle of the room. I think there was a chair here or there, but I couldn’t stop looking at the kids to really notice anything else in the room. But whatever was there, wasn’t much. It was barren and sterile. The kids looked like they’d been swept in off the streets. Survival of the fittest is the name of the game. Here’s where it was equal: each had bald spots on their heads, open sores, infections, lice, rotting teeth, dirty feet….you get the picture. They had big brown eyes, but many looked dazed, hollow, and sad. I did get a couple of sheepish grins from a few of the girls. There were 3 in particular that were huddled together. Clearly, “they” were all “they” had.

We’d made the decision that the boys (mikeschair) would follow behind the shoes and play songs for each of the groups in their respective rooms. When shoes were done for our group, and the boys were singing, Shaun (our group leader) came and got me because she wanted me to see the toddler room. When she opened the door, the first thing that hit me was the stench. It smelled like this room housed the sanitation department. It was anything but. Our team was holding as many kids as they could, some double-fisted, but they were out-numbered. A little boy “toddled” over to me; his diaper in desperate need of changing. He reached out his arms wanting me to hold him. I picked him up and he laid his head on my shoulder. He smelled terrible. And not just from the diaper. He was a dirty, and looked like he’d not been bathed in weeks. I swayed, rocked and hugged him as tightly as I could. Of course, I wanted it to be a 1:1 ratio, so after a few minutes, I tried to sit him down so I could go downstairs and recruit other professional toddler holders. When I tried to sit him down, he wrapped his legs around my waist and his arms around my neck as if I was hanging him over a cliff. He did NOT want to let go. Of course, my natural instinct was to hold him a little longer. Two more times I tried to sit him down so I could go for others, but he wasn’t having any part of this. The reality of his conditions sucker punched my heart. A dozen questions went through my mind: how often is he held? what is he thinking? what parts does he understand? what must it feel like to not have daily human touch other than an occasional diaper change? does his sub-conscience kick in and say “if I hold on tight enough will one of them not let me go?” I walked over to Pam, who may’ve already had 2, and I said, “please hold him. I can’t sit him down.” Walking out of the room to go and find others, part of me felt guilty that I was yet another in his life who would let him down.

After I found more team members for the toddler room, Shaun walked me to the infant room.

And here’s where I’ll stop for tonight.

And just FYI, there’s no “rest of the story” to the toddler room. There’s no red bow. They are still orphans. And they are still there.

Honduras. Day 3. Pics

I will tell you about this day when I get home. I will write it out. And I will share it on the air. I want to paint the whole picture for you, but since I can’t right now,  I’m posting a few pictures for you to see. Like Manchen in Guatemala, this is a government run orphanage. And when I say the conditions were deplorable, I mean they were worse than that….

Shaun, our group leader took me to see the baby room. When I walked through the wooden door, not only did I see things I’ve never seen before in my life, but I saw dozens and dozens of babies that needed some human touch.  Many were special needs, others were not. The oldest was probably 9 or 10, still in a diaper with an adult-sized onesie.

After holding a few of the babies for about 10 minutes, I knew I needed some more arms for holding. I went and grabbed a few friends off each team. I couldn’t leave there having these babies not be held. Even if only for an hour. Every single one of the team members I brought back had the same reaction when they walked through the door. First you smell the stench, then you see the conditions, then you see the sheer numbers of babies (with 2 workers. NOT blaming them), and you’re completely overwhelmed that this is their reality.  It is so utterly heart-breaking, that you have to wrangle the sobs, so you can bend down and pick up a baby.

So much more to the story …. but a few pics for now.

loving these babies as best we can....

gwen & colvin

nate & sam with some sweet peas

Honduras. Day 3.

hey guys,

it’s super late, and i have to be up in a few hours, but wanted to leave something here.

in 4 years of doing shoe trips, today was the hardest day. EVER.

and oh, how i hate “mission trip speak” because it simply cannot capture the reality of something that can only be experienced.

we visited an orphanage today, and when i say “food, water, clothing (barely) & shelter”, i’m almost conveying to pretty of a picture.

i will share with you when I get home. this day was hard on the whole team. we’re still processing together, hence the late hour.

i’m emotionally depleted.  many of us are.  as family, would you pray for us as we begin the 2nd half of the week tomorrow? we would love to know folks are praying for us as we’re over here. and truthfully, i’m struggling even asking for that … because it’s the kids that need the prayers so desperately. But your prayers are needed, felt and appreciated.

have to go to bed. can’t hold eyes open anymore.


Honduras. Day 2.

I want you to meet my new friend Maria. Maria is here with her daughter, Valerie. Maria is actually Peruvian, but America is definitely her home! And has been for the last 27 or so years. Her husband is American, and they met after her sister was an exchange student and her (now) husband’s family was the host family years ago.  They have a pretty cool story and we’ve enjoyed talking about Lima & Macchu Picchu quite a bit the last couple of days.

I want to brag on Maria (and she probably will not like it when she reads this because she’s incredibly humble) but Maria brings a special gift to this trip.  Maria is “that” person God sends every year on our shoe trips. Here’s what I mean by that…..

Last year “that” person was Ivonne. Ivonne is part of our JOY FM family and traveled to Guatemala with us. Ivonne speaks Spanish fluently, and “was volunteered” for the job of telling the bible story at each orphanage. Ivonne captured the children’s attention. and hearts! We would watch her at each orphanage share the story, and each time we stood in awe of how she shared the gospel in her native language, in a way the children could understand.

This afternoon, we were at the boys orphanage, and Maria was sharing the story of Joseph. (not the husband of Mary, but the coat-of-many-colors-left-for-dead-by-his-brothers Joseph). About mid-way through the story, I realized Maria was our “Ivonne” of this trip. I smiled to myself and said, “God, you do it every year! You send just the right people, hand-chosen. by You.”  He actually created a “3-deep bench” this year. Darlene and her sister, Emy from Miami could step right in and bring it too!

This team is a true picture of the body of Christ. Each brings a different gift, and every part is needed.

Meet Maria….

My name is Maria Simpson.This trip has been so amazing from the beginning, the  preparation, the provision, the traveling. This morning has been very intense for me. My daughter Valerie is here with me and we visited a girl’s home, so I was very touched when this young lady broke down and responded to the Bible story I was sharing and the Bible verse John 3:16.

Everyone on the team did an amazing job. This morning during devotions we sang a song and this lyrics really summarized what I had been praying for …”Lord break my heart for what break yours.” And it happened. A piece of my heart will stay in Honduras.

The afternoon was a visit to the San Ramon Boy’s home and I don’t know where or how I got the energy in the afternoon, but God was good and again everyone work hard and faithfully to bring Jesus’ love to the boys.  We are on our way back and Carmen is so funny directing this game of questions and answers and the whole bus is laughing and having so much fun.

This team is amazing, we fit together like a beautiful mosaic, I believe that each of us was picked by God to fulfill His purpose. Thank you Buckner and The Joy FM for allowing me to be here. I can’t wait to see what God has prepared for us tomorrow!

maria sharing the story of joseph

maria sharing with the girls. no, nothing splashy, but the Gospel is life. and it touched one of the girl's very deeply today.


maria's daughter, valerie with a baby girl from the orphanage yesterday.

Honduras. Day 1.

As soon as we landed today, we had a super quick lunch and then we were off to visit our first orphanage. Today was definitely a first for me; and I think it’s safe to say it was for most everyone here. Today we met the children at a private orphanage that cares for orphaned children living with AIDS.

At first glance, it looked like any other orphanage I’ve been to in the last 4 years. But when we entered the building, the first thing we saw was the mural (for lack of a better word) below:

painted on the wall at Casa Corazon de la Misericordia

The mural on the wall are the children’s hands with hearts painted inside them. If you look closely, the ones with crosses above their hands or painted next to the heart are the ones who have passed away….

Needless to say, most of us were a little shell shocked. I looked at the wall and then spotted Mary, crocodile tears streaming down her face. As I turned around, Mike was standing to my right in pretty much the same condition. All he could mouth was “Emma.” Emma is his niece and could have easily been any of these children. Because at first glance, they don’t look sick. Most don’t know they are sick!  And they don’t understand why they feel badly sometimes.  We actually had to be done and headed out exactly by 4:30, because that’s when dinner is served, and the medicine is administered. They cannot deviate from this schedule.

On days like today, I simply remember that we serve a sovereign Lord.  I can’t answer the “whys”. And I’m too tired tonight to even try. But I believe Him. I trust Him. and I praise Him. Because there is coming a day….every tear He’ll wipe away. There’ll be no more sickness. And no more pain.

This was the only orphanage that we visited today. We were there for several hours, and had fun playing with the kids. We played lots of “hot potato” … balloon style. Many bubbles were blown and chased, as well. We also all passed around little Denzel (yes, as in Washington) as if he were a newborn at a family reunion.  He was absolutely adorable!

denzel & nate playing with a very large orange balloon!

we colored & drew outlines of his hands. tho, he wouldn't sit still for long!

Here are a few more pics from the day below! It’s 12:30 here, so that means it’s 2:30 at home. I’m super tired. But definitely wanted to share our first few hours with you.

mary with a cute lil guy after he got his new pair of shoes!

but take heart!

We’ve spent a good bit of the week remembering the events that occurred that September morning in 2001.  It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years.  I remember so vividly sitting in the studio in Tampa (I was working for another station, Q105, at the time.) and literally being mid-sentence, glancing up to see the New York City skyline billowing with black smoke.  I asked, “What’s going on in New York?”  My partners turned their attention to the TV and together, LIVE on-air, we were trying to make sense of what we were seeing.  (I actually have the aircheck. It’s eerie to listen to).  We went to a break, and rushed to the neighboring studio just in time to see the 2nd plane hit the 2nd tower.  Like you, I was in shock, feeling numb, afraid, sad, and every other fill-in-the-blank emotion.  Our (perceived) safety and security had been threatened.  We were vulnerable. We weren’t in control.

But the truth is, we never were.

Nor are we today.

The reality is towers, pentagons and worlds shatter around us every day.  Of course, I’m talking figuratively, but every day a single mom is losing her job, a dad is given a terminal diagnosis, a husband is serving divorce papers, or a mom and dad are burying their child. Their “towers” have been hit and are crumbling.

But there is HOPE!

We have an anchor.

And His name is Jesus.

Even when things feel most disastrous, God is ever-present.  One of the most reassuring scriptures (that I read frequently, oh by the way!) is John 16:33:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

Brandon Heath says it best in his song, “It’s Alright”…“no promise of an easy road / just a destination.”  Oh, what truth! No, God never promised it’d be easy – and it won’t – but He is with us, lots of time carrying us.  Even if you’re hanging on, white-knuckled, I encourage you to lift your eyes up! Where does our help come from?

Our help comes from the Lord.

And He has promised to never leave you. Cry out to Him. And if you’re too angry, too sad, or still unsure, tell Him. He already knows.

He is our Defender. Our Healer. Our Restorer.


He has overcome this world.

Believe it.

It’s True.

Journeying with you,

Big Brown Eyes

Free. To. Run.

It’s happening. It’s really happening! February 26, 2012. At Disney! And even though I did the Princess Half this past year, I am nervous all over again. Seriously. My palms are sweaty.  But….. I’m doing it! And so is Natalie! And a bunch of our friends. Will you join us?

Last year, I ran for my 40th. To prove to myself that I could do it. This year, I am running for FREEDOM. And in my opinion, a much better reason to run! I want to help fight against sex slavery and human exploitation around the world.

I want to:
RUN for the millions enslaved around the world, including our own backyard.
RUN for those without a voice.
RUN for those who aren’t free to…YET!

All of the information is here.

Exclusive benefits for Team FREEDOM:

● A special goodie bag that includes a Tiara and Team FREEDOM T-shirt.

● Admission to the VIP Princess Pasta Party that includes:

    • A pasta dinner fit for a princess
    • An intimate acoustic performance by Natalie Grant
    • An individual photo with Natalie Grant
    • Pasta party location TBD, but will be in the Tampa area on Friday, February 24, 2012 at 7 p.m.

● We will meet at a designated location TBD for a photo op after the race with Team FREEDOM. Keep in mind we’ll all be running at different paces, so we will not finish at the same time. We’ll meet at specified area at the conclusion of the overall event.

We talked to Natalie the other day on the show. She told us about visiting India a few years ago. She was walking down a street with brothels on either side of the road. She happened to glance up and saw a young girl. And when I say young, Natalie said she couldn’t have been older than 6 or 7. She saw this little girl literally in a cage. Natalie said she “locked eyes with these big brown eyes….”  Her life has never been the same.

While I didn’t lock eyes with the same set of big brown eyes as Natalie, I have seen many myself in the last 4 years in Peru, Guatemala, and sadly, right here in Florida.  I’ll never forget the first time I talked with a 15 year old girl who’d recently had a baby. She didn’t know who the father was. She was hollow and said with no emotion: “my daddy makes me work. But he got mad at me because I got pregnant and couldn’t work no more. I don’t want to do that work no more. I want to do something else.”  It was clear. Her “work” = prostitution. I wanted to throw up.

We live in one of the worst areas for human trafficking and slavery right here at home. I want to bring a voice to this despicable reality. I don’t want to bury my head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening because it’s too hard, too disgusting, and too uncomfortable to talk about.  I know I can’t solve the problem. But I know I can’t turn and look the other way either.

Running 13.1 miles will not be easy. But I will be running for those big brown eyes. They are princesses too.


my new discovery!

I made the guys a little nervous today with my “Girlfriend Public Service Announcement.” In my defense, I did ask the men in the audience to turn their radios down.  Of course, Dave & Bill didn’t have that option.  But, I’ve found a new bra that I absolutely love!! Layering is in, and I’m always wearing camis, pretty much under everything, everyday.  I love wearing camis! But in the summertime it’s hot!

Back at the Doves in April, my girlfriend Tammi was showing me this new cami bra – I’m talking actual bra! underwire, adjustable straps, the whole deal! (as opposed to camis that typically have the shelf-reinforcement thingy with elastic. Boo!) No support at all as far as I’m concerned.  

So, I was shopping the other day with my mom and Haley, and we wandered into Dillards. While there, I remembered this bra and bought a couple. I’ve worn them constantly since! They give the appearance of layering, and they’re fashionable, yet modest. I love them!! I bought a couple for my daughters, too.  They’re perfect.

The brand is Modern Movement. They’re on sale right now. And here’s the link.

Whenever I find something I think other women will love, I simply HAVE to share!! Yes, you’ll thank me later.

Thursday. re-visted.

August 23.

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.

pulling up to the orphanage

the boys waiting to get back in after we were told we could sing. Note the shirt that Sam's wearing! I love it.

singing with the boys...

praying the with boys....

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.

iris & jocelin

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.

iris 2010

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.

jesse telling the girls that God see their wounds. And because of Jesus' wounds, they are - and will be - healed.

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….

jocelin 2010

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