Monday, March 12, 2012

An outside Perspective...

We are blessed! We are blessed in so many ways that we take completely for granted, a car to drive, television, good friends, family, but what about those things that we need to survive such as a roof over our heads a place to sleep or more importantly a meal. I recently had the opportunity to visit a community where they may not have a second pair of cloths, don’t have electricity, literally can not afford to finish the roof above their heads, and have to send their kids away to a special program just so they can have food to eat. I would like to share my experience with you and I pray it will touch your heart as it has certainly touched mine.

It was a chilly day on the 28th of February when we boarded our flight out of Grand Forks to Mesa Arizona, during the flight I thought of all the great things I was going to do on my vacation with my friends, I wanted to go deep sea fishing, Jen wanted to snorkel, we wanted to bring back lots of souvenirs for the kids and our families this trip was going to be great. Mid afternoon on the 29th we arrived in San Carlos Mexico, a town thriving on rich North Americans, we saw condo upon condo, luxury cars, large houses and a line up of huge ocean boats that stretched for about a quarter mile, this was going to be fantastic. The first day we were in San Carlos we booked a deep sea fishing trip, deep sea fishing was on my bucket list so this was important to me, and I was excited to go. We went to the beach later on in the afternoon and watched the dolphins play in the shallow waters, we collected sea shells, and even had a friendly dog mark Brian’s shoes so he could find them later. In the evening we went for Jumbo Mexican Hotdogs, they were amazing. After supper we went back to the mission center to make plans for the week.

We were staying at a hotel that was separate from the mission center so in the morning on Thursday we got dressed and ready to tackle a new day of fun, we headed down to the mission center to see what was in store for us today. After a wonderful breakfast we met a little girl obviously not with our group, she came to the center alone, so we decided to ask who she was and what was her story, it turns out that this little one needed surgery. The family of this little girl could not afford the surgery that she needed and sometimes not even food to feed her. Art and Brenda, the couple that run the mission center, were helping this girl, they were feeding her and driving her to her medical appointments. Nothing is harder than seeing a child in need and we were happy that someone was caring for her. We had a little time to pass before our next adventure so a couple of us assisted with some construction on a second set of dorms at the mission center. In the afternoon we went on a hike to a beautiful oasis, we walked through the mountains towering on either side of us, there were cactuses, palm trees, small lizards and at the end of the hike there was a beautiful oasis, streams that were flowing, worn paths in the rock where the water falls run when it rains and gorgeous green plants everywhere. At this point the trip was looking more like a vacation instead of us coming out to see a children’s ministry but I was having fun and so far had only seen one troubled child, and then came Thursday evening.

That evening, Thursday evening Brian and Clarissa took us to a near by city called Guaymas, and they took us to a very run down part of town, buildings made of scrap tin, sometimes brick, some had complete roofs, and some were open with just 4 walls, the average size of the houses was about as big as the living room and dining area in my home. We drove down the streets and the truck we were driving in was like an ice cream truck, kids were running in the streets to touch it, to say hi, obviously this truck and the people that were in it meant a great deal to these children. We arrived at the house where the children’s program was to take place, as we were setting up for the evening Brain hooked up his computer to some large speakers that were at the house and started playing some upbeat Christian songs. As we continued to get ready for the evening even more children started coming out of these shacks, homes to the people that owned them. As the kids arrived we started dancing with them and playing games with them. I held so many kids in my arms and on my shoulders I was in pain, but to see the smiles on their faces, to snuggle next to their cheek and to feel their happiness there was no way that I was ready to stop. Child after child lined up just to receive a hug or a short ride on our shoulders just wanting to feel loved. After a few games we set up tables for the children to sit at, there were over 100 children that attended the program that night. The children ate and we played some more after the meal, as it got later in the evening we had to start sending the children home, most of them did not want to go they tried to stay in the yard but eventually all were sent back to their homes.

That night was very hard for me, on the way home I learnt that it cost about $100.00 to feed the children that attended the program, for some of the children that attended the program this Thursday supper and Saturdays breakfast are their only meals for the week. I was told a story about a little girls grandmother who was looking after the little girl because the mother had passed away, she could not afford to feed the kids or herself but she told the child when her stomach hurt from not eating to not worry, on Thursday there will be a meal for you at the program. My heart was broken as I realized that I had just booked a fishing trip that would have fed these children for a month. That night I cried as I thought about all the things that I own and what the cost of these items were in terms of meals for starving children. My car $400.00/month payments = 400 kids going to bed each month with food in their tummies, my garage in the back yard that I have yet to use except to store more items I don’t really need = 25,000 babies without upset empty stomachs, but the part that hurt the most was the 200.00 kids that could be fed twice a month if I didn’t need a fancy meal, or ice cream Friday night, a special coffee in the morning, the newest video games or movies, if I alone, one single person did without the stuff in my life that I want to have, the children of that section of Guaymas would have a never ending supply of food and never go hungry again………then I thought……..that is just if I were to help…… many of us out here do the same and how many lives would change……..then my eyes turned to water falls.

The next morning we got up at 5:00 to head to the harbour to go fishing, we didn’t sleep much that night because at the hotel we were staying at there was a big party all night. We headed out to our fishing spot about an hour and ten minute drive from the harbour, I slept the whole way out. The 2 gentlemen that were helping us on the boat did everything for us, they baited the lines, showed us how to feel the fish on the line (they don’t bite hard 270 feet deep), they fed us, cleaned the fish for us, took pictures for us. Jen got sick on the boat and with hand signals they continuously were asking if she was alright, they took extremely good care of us on our trip but in the back of my mind I was still thinking of how kids could have been fed if we gave up our 6 hours of fun, the answer was a bout 800. We are on day 2 of our trip and everything we do is already being measured by plates of food, I felt selfish, guilty and greedy. We got back from our fishing trip about mid afternoon, we helped out a little more at the mission center and then drove back to Guaymas. We went to a large statue close to the edge of the city it was on a large mountain so we could see the edges of the city from the top. There we were told of the future plans for the children’s ministry the 4 corners of the city were the most poverty stricken areas of the city and the plan was to contact other pastors in those areas to assist with the growth of this ministry. We learnt of a pastor that was already giving back to his community in the was of clothing and at time food when he had money to do so, we were curious why it would not work to partner with this pastor who is so willing to serve already. The problem is that there was not enough money in the program to reach out to another section of the city, we were shocked, almost sick to our stomachs, there was not enough money in the program. I could not understand how there would not be funds available for an outreach program that fed these children and taught them of the Jesus’ love, especially since it did not take a lot to run this program.

Saturday morning was another blessing that I will not forget anytime soon, we were able once again to play, teach and serve these children. We saw many of the children from Thursdays program at Saturday morning’s program as well, we laughed, we played and though we could not understand each other, hugs and kisses seem to be the same in every language. Today was special for me personally though, I was introduced to Pastor Rafael boys, Junior, Absalon, and the most special teenager I have ever met, Ramon. Ramon is a 17 year old boy who grew up in San Diego, his mother and step father are wealthy, Ramon had the chance to live a life without wanting for anything, but he put his wants aside and moved to the city of Guaymas to care for his Father who is almost blind and his grandmother who can not see at all. Their home doesn’t have a working fridge, Ramon goes without food sometimes for days and he can not see if the sun is not out. Ramon has a special gift though, he knows both Spanish and English, I asked him what he was doing helping at the children’s program and he told me, God put events in my life to lead me to this program to translate. The amazing part of this story is the Pastor speaks mostly Spanish and Brian speaks next to none. Without Ramon and his huge sacrifice for a good life this children’s program would be a lot more difficult to keep going. Junior wants to be a pastor some day and start a new church, he works 10 hours a day manufacturing parts, ha makes about $20.00/ day, most of which is given away. He told me he wanted to come to Canada to work as a mechanic for 3 months and then move back to Mexico, because with just 3 months of wages he could buy a house and start his church. Absalon has a gift in music, at any given time he would start singing and most of his songs were singing praises to God. These 3 boys had continuous smiles, they were always giving of themselves and taking nothing in return, when I was around them I felt happy and excited, if they could be happy with so little why is it so hard for me to be happy with so much.

Sunday morning came and we attended Pastor Rafael’s church and the 3 boys from the children’s program (Junior, Absalon and Ramon) were front and center singing and praising the Lord, they even had a translator on the stage for us so we could have a English service. After church the Pastor invited us back to his house for lunch, he was so thankful for the little bit of help we gave him he wanted to show his appreciation. We knew full well that there was no way he could afford to feed all of us, and only later did we find out that he had borrowed money just to serve us that meal. We ate we sang and talked about how different our lives were, we talked about the vehicles I had, the money I made and the toys that I have bought over the years. I asked them if it made them angry that I spend all this money on stuff that gives me temporary joy when they don’t know when their next meal is going to be. I was told God blesses people in many different ways, and they felt blessed every time they served the Lord, just because they didn’t know where the next meal was coming from didn’t mean they did not believe that the Lord would provide when they needed. In the afternoon the boys took me down to the docks to look at the sights and over the naval harbour. We walked along the boardwalk and came to a coconut water stand, the boys asked me if I would like to try one, I said sure not thinking anything of it, and they bought me one. I asked them if they did not want one as well but they only had money for one, 12 pesos is what the drink cost, that is approximately $1.00 Canadian and they used it one me, I felt horrible. We piled back into the van and they took me down the street, to a part of the city just as shabby as where they lived. They explained to me that on a Thursday night they will have up to 40 kids in the back of their safari van to bring to the children’s program from this area of the city and most Thursdays they have to pick children to leave behind because they have no more room. Can you imagine a program that started with about 6 Children is reaching a part of the city with 40 plus kids waiting to receive the message of Jesus, more than enough children to begin a second ministry. A wise friend told me that when the fields are ready for harvest to harvest, but in this situation so many would have the chance if not for the limitation of finances. We decided to leave town to look for firewood, we wanted to have a fire with them in the evening so the boys were going to supply the fire wood. Just outside of town we found some trees that they said were good fire trees and we should cut off some of the dead branches so they brought out an axe with that had been broken several times almost every other swing it needed to be put back together, and a machete. They wanted to contribute so badly to our party they all came back with huge blisters on their hands but enough fire wood for the evening. We had a fire that evening and sang many songs, they even knew a few English songs that they sang for us as well.

Monday all the boys were at work so we decided to stay at the mission center and assist the team that was there do some more construction on the dorms. The team that was there was running out of time on their project and decided not to participate in delivering food hampers or clothing hampers that afternoon. Just after lunch we left for another section of Guaymas called independencia, this is a government funded section of the city, basically all of the families that are living in the streets or in houses that should be condemned are relocated to this section of town. We drove to a church located near by, we had about 7 suitcases of donated clothing to give away, we laid a tarp on the floor and set up a table at the front of the church. The church we were in was constructed by the pastor and his wife, made completely from cinder blocks and bricks, the church only recently received some tin to make a roof which was not complete while we were there. People filed into the church waiting for their chance to pick a few items from the piles of clothing we had laid out. When the clothing had been picked through and we were packing up to leave a few people that had been picking through the clothing came to us, thanked and hugged us. It is hard to hold back tears when someone with so little is grateful to the point of sobbing for 5 articles of clothing. Little did I know that my emotional strings had not begun to be tugged yet, we got back in the truck and headed to the government housing. We arrived at the first house, outside the door of this square concrete house there was a pot sitting on a burning piece of lumber, the kids were playing in the dirt in front of the house. The pot was half full of a boiling substance that I would be hesitant to feed to a dog. They invited us into their home, on the wall was a shelf, it had a couple of cups and plates, there was no fridge or stove, just a wood table with some blankets that resembled a bed. There was no electricity to the house and on the 4 shelves on the wall there was nothing that looked like it may be edible. The mother told us of a dream that she had the night before, she dreamed that she had passed away and she was pleading with a man to let her go back to her children and husband, but the man told her you have a choice, you can tell everyone you know about the Grace and Goodness of Jesus or surly you will die. She told her husband about the dream and decided that she was going to tell her friends about the love of Jesus and the next day we arrived with a food hamper for their family. GOD IS GOOD. We went to a few more houses and we came upon another house of a single mother again the same story walls were bare, there were a few vegetables on the table so she was a little better off, but in this case Pastor Rafael asked me to pray with the lady, (he had asked me twice in other houses already so I could not say no a third time). I took her hand for some reason I am not sure why and I took Pastor Rafael’s wife’s hand, I began to pray, as I prayed for this house and this lady that was thankful for what she had, my hands were getting squeezed tighter and tighter from both sides, they were praying as well but in Spanish. When I finished praying she immediately gave me a big hug, our little contribution of food and small amount of time we spent with her seemed very minor to us but was received with such thankfulness and again GOD IS GOOD.

Being that the community was so poor even though they lived a walk away from the ocean most of the volunteers of the children’s program had never been on a boat, so we decided this being our last full day out we would book a sunset cruise for the volunteers. The entire day was very sad since we knew this was the day of goodbyes, in just a weeks time we had become so close to these people, and seen the sacrifices they had each made so another child could receive a meal and be taught about Jesus, they are the type of people that draw you in close because you want to have 1% of the true happiness that they live even though they have nothing. Tuesday evening we set sail on a 35 passenger boat we watched dolphins jumping next to the boat we took pictures from the boat next to island landmarks. We ate together, joked together, danced together and laughed about the adventures that we had shared during the week. As the sun was setting I realized that the goodbyes were getting close, we took our final few pictures as the boat returned to shore. When we got off the boat the Pastor called us all to a circle, they gave us each a gift to thank us for taking them on the boat. This was very emotional for us since we knew that they did not have a lot of money to spend on gifts. I can not recall all the words that were said, I was busy shielding my face, but it was the single most emotion moment in my life as such a simple act was appreciated beyond measure. One by one they thanked us for the help with the Children’s program, for spending time with them, and for the boat ride. I spent most of this time with my face buried in my sleeves, my nose running like rapids and my tears flowing like an open faucet, I had barely gained my composure when I looked up and was unable to find a dry face in a crowd of 35. We all hugged each other as we said our last goodbyes, muttering words of kindness over the sounds of sniffles. The gift that we were given by our friends in Mexico was a banner that read the following…

What is friendship

It is a door that is opened

An outstretched hand

A smile that encourages you

The face that understands you

A tear that shares your pain

A word that encourages you

A criticism that improves you

It is the embrace of forgiveness

An applause that excites you

An encounter that makes you rejoice

A favour without reward

To give without expecting return

To do without keeping a tab

And one that waits without getting tired.

It has now been 3 days since our last goodbyes to the outstanding, dedicated, servants in Guaymas and my prayer for them is as follows.

Dear Lord, thank you so much for the short time we had with our new friends in mexico, I pray that you will continue to touch their lives is special ways. I pray that you will continue to be with Pastor Rafael and his family, help their ministry reach more children and their church to continue to grow. I pray that you will be with Ramon, even though his eye sight is poor, it is clear he knows you are the light, please restore electricity to their home and put people around him to encourage him, for what he is doing is priceless to the Children’s program. Please be with Brian, Clarissa, Mason and Cole as they are in Mexico, forfeiting there comfortable lifestyle to serve you and bring the news of your love to the Children of Guaymas. Dear Lord I thank you for the opportunity we had to interact with all the volunteers in the area and I pray that you will bless them all. Dear Lord I also would like to pray for the people here in Canada may you draw us to those that have a desire to serve you financially and assist with this amazing ministry that you have begun in Guaymas. Help us to reach people around us Lord that together we may all receive a feeling of peace, love and joy like our friends that have sacrificed so much for the program. Dear Jesus I thank you once again for the amazing eye opening experience that you have put in front of us and I am sorry for the cost involved to realize this lesson, please be with the volunteers involved in the program, those that are contributing financially and the people that you will put us in contact with in the future. Amen.