We keep moving forward

September 29, 2012

Before club begins we pray, as we do everyday.

Lord, take this time. It’s yours. Use us. Let us be conduits of your love. Whatever these children need, whatever you want to give them in these next hours, here we are. Use us. We are available, to be your hands and feet. Anything that would get in the way – our pride, our boredom, our distractions, we lay it down now. Wake us up, let us be alive, alert, engaging, connecting. Use us, Lord. This time is yours. Have your way.

She appears in the window and immediately starts pounding on the glass store front.

I open the door and she throws herself carelessly into the room and lunges to the toy town of Fisher Price Little People all nicely arranged. She tips over houses and tosses cars.

No space between thought and action.

Just action.

“Jocelyn!” I exclaim, “I’m so glad to see you!”

Big hug.

“What do you want to do?” I’m trying to redirect her from destruction to a productive activity.

She darts toward the felt board corner. Palms up, she roughly wipes all the felt board pieces off, taking down a carefully designed picture.

She pulls all the pieces under her, sits on them and then cries for the last small felt board of ocean creatures that another girl is trying to save from her path of destruction.

She is not content until she has every felt piece. She starts trying to dress people and cries out, “ROPA!” (Clothes)

I begin to hand her pieces of felt clothing for her people, but she’s frustrated already that she can’t get the clothes on right.

We need to see this girl more often, I’m thinking, She needs something everyday.

Out of the corner of her eye she sees another girl has chosen to play with Viewmaster. She snatches the Viewmaster out of the girl’s hand and shoves discs in the slot. She tips over the container of discs, scattering them across the floor.

She shows me pictures from her viewmaster, shows her friend pictures, cries when her friend finds a princess disc.

The afternoon proceeds and we begin to play with a dollhouse. But another girl approaches to play as well and Jocelyn loses it.

She begins thrashing on the floor. Flailing limbs.

Body limp, she crumples on the floor sobbing.

I begin to rub her back as she sobs.

And sobs.

And wails.

I keep rubbing and stroking her hair.

The minutes tick by. The room is tense. The other staff are doing amazing engaging with the rest of the children, keeping them focused, as I sit rubbing the back of a sobbing child.

Slowly, cautiously, I ask. “Can I give you a hug?”

She lets me hold her and we’re sitting on the floor, just rocking and rocking.

She begins a steady wail of, “Quiero jugar sola, Quiero jugar sola…” over and over and over. (I want to play alone, I want to play alone).

And it’s not about the dollhouse anymore, or anything, it’s just a steady cry of I want to play alone, I want to play alone.

I echo back to her what she is saying. I want her to know that I hear her. This 3rd youngest sibling of 8, living in a one-room, tin shack, all she can cry over and over is, “I want to play alone.”

I look around and see through her eyes. It’s all too much. The toys, the doll house, the bright colors. It’s just too much for a little five-year-old who has nothing.

We rock and rock and she sobs and sobs.

I don’t rush her or shush her. I want her to have this time to just cry if she wants, in a safe, secure, comforting place. Because that’s what Jesus does for me.

And after awhile, her eyes clear, she settles.

We find a simple wooden puzzle of animals and build it over and over again and again.

As she puts an animal in it’s place she says, “Toma culo!” (jackass) and laughs.

At the end of club, she doesn’t want to leave so she gives us all the finger, saying, “Toma esta!” (take this), again laughing to herself at her cleverness. She knows how to use big words and she knows it.

We pray and thank God for this day, for this group, for all of our friends here today. We hug, we carry her off to the car to take her home.

And inside, I’m at peace, trusting, knowing, that our prayers have been heard and answered. That this little girl received what she needed, what Jesus wanted to give her in the short hour and half that we have with her.

And we’ll do it again next week. And the week after, and the week after that. And we’ll continue. We’ll be with this little one. We’ll watch her grow, we’ll help her in school, we’ll walk beside her and keep demonstrating Christ’s love until she knows it deep down, believes it, lives it.

I’m hanging all my hopes on this and with this faith I keep moving forward.



It Feels Like a Battle

September 27, 2012


This work is hard. Sometimes it just hits you in the gut. What you’re up against. 

As we get closer and deeper with the children, it’s like peeling back layers of an onion. Finding out more and more – the depths of what is actually happening here. And it’s devastating. 

“God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Ephesians 6:10-18, The Message

Costa Rica’s Independence Day!

September 15, 2012

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I felt like a cheer-leader this morning. Walking alongside kids in the parade, cheering, snapping their photos, greeting moms, squealing about how cute their kids are.

My boys rushed ahead of me pointing out friends, “There’s so-and-so!” “Look mom, over there – it’s this and that person!”

Community events are great. It’s a chance to let children shine and show the families how much we value them and their children.

When you’re marching in a parade, it’s really special to look out in the crowd and see someone you know, smiling, giving you a thumbs up, cheering for you. Those are important things in the life of a child. Those are things that build up, that stick with, that build their self worth and view of themselves. Small things, but consistently, over time, these are things that change a life.


September 14, 2012

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Daily Thoughts

September 10, 2012

Today… in bits and pieces.

We make so many mistakes. All the time.

“It’s o.k. to make mistakes.” It’s what I always tell my kids.

Lord cover our mistakes. Your love covers a multitude of sins. Your love makes up for practically anything.

So many faces flashing by in the hallway after church. Smiling, brown faces, eyes lit up, happy. So many hugs. I can’t believe they’re all here! And so many with their moms, brothers, sisters, families. The church was packed. And children’s church even more so.

Moms with their hair straightened, make-up on, cute outfits, coming for the first time to hear God’s message and be a part of the church family. Wow. Just wow.

We had a pinata at our picnic and it was just too overwhelming for one special boy. He has really poor impulse control and just lost it, lashing out and fighting anyone within reach. Scott had to restrain him.

“You’re angry,’ I said. “Really, really angry.” His eyes connected with mine for a moment and I saw his body physically release a little. “You wanted to be the first one to hit the piñata, is that right? You really like piñatas.”

He nodded his head. “And now you’re so mad you want to hit everyone in the whole park!”

“Yeah!” He said.

“Can I give you a hug?” I gave him a big hug and felt him relax even more. In the meantime the piñata was broken and kids dove for candy. He wept bitterly because he missed it.

“It’s o.k. to cry,” I told him. Scott got some candy for him and he was o.k. Face red and tear stained, but at least he wasn’t raging and trying to fight the whole world single-handedly.

We laughed about it afterwards. The piñata, that is. Because it was a complete disaster! It fell from the string, split open and children dove on top of each other grabbing for candy, others sobbing.

“I’m so sorry, Leslie,” Karen said. “It was totally my fault.” I just laughed.

Because, you know, at least she tried something!

She planned some games and organized a piñata. Yeah, maybe it didn’t go totally according to plan. But it was something special. An effort made. And it’s a message that says, “You’re special to me. You’re worth my investment of time, money and effort.”

The moms in the community see that, the kids see it. They feel it. It’s powerful. These consistent messages, sent again and again over time are what will change this community. Messages of value sent in a disaster piñata!

Those are my thoughts for the day… typed in less than 10 minutes… just because.

To Be a Child

September 5, 2012

I picked up a ten year old boy today and as he climbed into the van he gave a hearty sigh of contentment.

“It’s nice to be here alone and I don’t have to take care of any kids.”

This boy is responsible for his two little brothers and little cousins. It’s a big responsibility. His club gives him a chance to do something special just for him. This is his time and he knows it – it feels good. His smile in these photos shows it, too. He’s only 10, and at club, he gets to be the child that he needs to be.

We have 52 children enrolled in the program receiving a special club focusing on art, creativity, friendship, social skills, child development and above all Jesus. This is a time for them to get the one-on-one attention they need, love poured in, acceptance, kindness, patience and all those things that they need and aren’t receiving. They are learning what it means to be a friend, how to pray for each other, how to laugh and play instead of fight and more.

Each child also receives a one-on-one or small group tutoring session. Their confidence is building and they are passing exams and classes they were failing before. Many have hope that they will be able to pass their grade level, where before they felt a sinking weight of impossibility. They’re doing it! With help and encouragement, each child receiving tutoring has made drastic improvement in school, and this new found confidence improves all other areas of their life as well.

Here are photos of our clubs in their new location, with new volunteers, re-organized, more focused and better than ever.

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New Clubs and… we are (almost) land owners!!

September 1, 2012

When we set our intentions, but let God guide the outcomes, things end up surprisingly different but infinitely better.

Wow, the last few weeks have been so full, jam-packed with amazing things, I don’t even know how to start.

But I know I want to write and share with you all that’s been happening and the way the Lord is leading this ministry.

As our clubs at the library were bursting at the seams, we felt the winds of change upon us. With the amount of children now wanting to be involved in kids clubs, we had to re-strategize.

We put the clubs on hold for two weeks while we went into an intense time of re-organizing. But this didn’t involve sitting in an office doing paperwork. Nope, our way of re-organizing meant getting out on the streets and in the homes of these children and families.

This meant first getting each child’s school schedule and age. Then onto the white board placing them into groups. We kept club enrollment at 5-6 children per group so we can have intentional one-on-one time with each child. Because of their intense emotional needs, we felt this was going to be a much more effective way to minister.

Once the groups were set we made an invitation for each child and a special club card. After that we interviewed 50 children and families. This involved a home visit to chat and talk with the family, fill out a file for each kid and hand out their invitation to be a part of a club. The anticipation was building in the children. They could hardly wait for their club!

Now whenever I pass through the barrios instead of the mass confusion of children surrounding me saying, “When are we going to the library? Can we go today? Can we do something?” Begging me to go do something with them.

Now the kids smile and shout after me, “I’m on Tuesday!” “My club is Wednesday!” And chat to each other about whose club is when. Everyone is happy because each child has a special time prepared just for them.

At the same time, God is building and bringing in people to help meet all the various and complex needs of these children. We now have two full-time tutors who are pulling out the children and creating a separate schedule so each of these 50 children, who we have targeted as the most at-risk in Jaco, are now receiving a club and a tutoring session each week! Isn’t that incredible?

This is truly the work of prevention. These are truly things that can change the course of these children’s lives. 

But wait, it gets even better!

Our church, Iglesia Radical, meets in a store front in the middle of town. They rent two store fronts – one for services and the other for Sunday school and an office. Well, during these two weeks the church decided because of all the new kids coming to church they  needed extra space for Sunday school. They rented another store front next to the two they already have! We were so excited to hear this news.

The pastor and his wife offered us the closet in the new room to store all of our club supplies. We were overjoyed. They even had a staff member custom build shelves for the closet for us. Oh, man. I’m going to be honest, I was just freaking out with joy about this. Because the “stuff” is important. It’s all donated supplies – art supplies, board games, puzzles, which are the important tools that we use to connect with and minister to these children. And now these supplies have a home.

But, then, the very icing on the cake. The church offered us the use of the room for our clubs. It is a beautiful room, with big open windows, air conditioning, tables, ready-to-go. And we get to use it every afternoon.

We just finished our first week of re-organized clubs in our new location and… it was absolutely incredible.

The location was perfect, and even better than that two members of the youth group showed up every afternoon to help us clean and prep and lead the clubs.

These teenage boys sat on the floor and played puzzles, board games, read stories, painted pictures, played and sang songs with these children. Just like big brothers. And at the end of the club we all sat on the floor and prayed for each other, the teenagers helping lead the children in prayer. It was powerful.

These boys have been part of the church for six years now, growing in their faith, and now they are giving back by being an example to the younger ones coming up.

When it Rains it Pours

And I mean pouring down blessings. Just showering it down.

At the same time of everything above, the Lord decided it was time to give us a property of our own. Our very own! Where we can live, raise our family, and minster to the depths we desire in this community. The property is a tool. A beautiful, life-giving tool that we hope to use to not only raise four healthy sons, but also create a safe place for children and youth.

The Lord’s timing is absolutely incredible. I feel like He has us just right in the palm of His hand and He’s giving us just the exact experiences we need to learn and grow and understand His desires for this ministry. He’s showing us His strategy.

At the La Ola property where we worked last year we learned a rhythm to caring for children in the midst of “free play.”

Now, in this season, we have created patterns that have beginnings and endings, clubs with limited enrollment and waiting lists. Children like knowing there are expectations and structures and boundaries. Their lives define the word “chaos” so when we infuse design and clarity and order and peace, we are giving them a gift.

Ultimately, when we have a property, we want our ministry to have both – open times when everyone and anyone is invited, and clubs/classes that are limited in enrollment.

It’s similar to the design of Jesus’ teaching – broad messages to large groups, and smaller intentional sessions with his disciples.

So, in a way it’s like as a ministry we’re getting a practicum in both levels – we had a year of the free play, open for all structure – which was AWESOME. Now we are having a practicum of a more structured time. And finally, we will put the two together with a deeper understanding of both aspects and how to put them together. smile

(I have to mention here the guidance of my friend and mentor, Jill Aspegren, who shared these words with me several months ago, and now I am seeing it play out before my very eyes… thank you, Jill.)

“Let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance—” Proverbs 1:5

What we are thinking about now is maintaining focused clubs at the church, and as the Lord provides, using the property for a drop-in. A refuge and safe place for children. From the drop-in we can plug children into a focused club, small-group tutoring, and loving church community.

There are a lot more details to share, and I want to do that. Especially more specifics of owning a property and where we are at in the process. We are not quite land owners yet, we have only signed a purchase agreement. But this post is so long already, I will write more about the property specifically in a new post.

Thank you for reading and following along on our journey. We need your prayers so desperately. And your support. Your financial giving and prayers make all of this possible. We would not be here if it wasn’t for you. So thank you from the bottom of our hearts. ❤