When Children Can’t Trust

October 22, 2012

In the car on the way to clubs, an 11 year old boy says, “Leslie, my mom’s still gone.”

His mom went to Nicaragua weeks ago and Seth* has been staying with his older sister.

“Wow, that’s a really long time – you must miss her,” I said in reply.

Seth turned his head sharply up and away, “No!” He put on his tough face – he can’t admit to missing his mom.

Messages are all around us. Children, like sponges, are constantly absorbing the messages sent to them. The message this boy has received – and it’s been reinforced over and over – is that he cannot show any signs of weakness or vulnerability. He must maintain a tough exterior at all costs…

And it costs him dearly.

Later on during the session, our tutor comes over to the club room, “Leslie, I don’t know what to do about Seth. I can’t help him!”

She went on to explain that he was making a mistake in his math work and was unable to accept that he was doing it wrong. He refused to believe that what he was doing was wrong, even when shown through logic and with a calculator that it was incorrect. Instead he just completely shut down.

I came out to see Seth sitting outside the door slumped against the wall holding his backpack.

I sat down next to him and asked for eye contact. Once I was able to get his eyes looking into mine I said, “Seth, you don’t have to be in control. I know you feel like you have to take care of yourself and stay in control of everything. So much responsibility is on your shoulders. But here, in this place, you can let it go. Let go of your control and let your teacher teach you. Here you can just be a kid.” 

He stayed connected with me and shook his head in acknowledgment. I waited with him quietly until he felt better. Then we slowly took his notebook out, when he was ready, and looked at it together. He was able to see now that he was making a mistake. We sat and did a few problems together until he felt comfortable and then he went back to his tutoring session. He finished it well.

When a child cannot be vulnerable, when a child can’t trust others, that child also can’t learn. His development is impaired.

Children learn and develop in the context of loving relationships.

Without that, it goes off track.

That’s why we provide children in our program tutoring sessions and also a club focusing on learning to trust and have relationships. That’s why we make home visits a central part of what we do. We make relationships our top priority. Everything else falls into place around that.

*Name changed


September 14, 2012

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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. ❤


September 1, 2012

Little Antoni, 5 years old, came running down the stairs with flames chasing behind him. No one knows how it started, but at noon on Saturday, Aug. 18 a fire ignited the upper story of the house of a family that we love and work with.

With all the live wires connecting these houses, we are guessing it was electrical.

The family ran screaming out of the house, but Oliver, 13, went the other way, charging up the stairs with a bucket of water, determined to save his house.

But it was too late. He couldn’t put the fire out and the flames were so hot and strong his leg was burned in his attempt to save his home.

The neighborhood was screaming as the flames threatened other houses. People ran down the streets, waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the fire trucks to show up.

The family could do nothing but stand helplessly by while their entire world when up in flames.

They lost everything that day. All their clothes, beds, furniture, school books and supplies, everything that makes a life and home.

This mom, though, is rejoicing and holding her kids tight today. She is thanking God that they are o.k. and overwhelmed with gratitude because they still have each other.

The day after the fire we went to visit and pray with the family. We sat together, praying and clinging to God’s promise that He works all things together for the good of those who love himAll things. Even a fire. Even devastation. He will bring good out of it.

Antoni is one of Jude’s best friends. Jude was especially concerned for Antoni and wanted to make sure he had some toys. I took down everyone’s sizes and lists of things they needed and went over to the church to dig through donations.

We are so thankful for our amazing church that maintains a food and clothing bank for just such times as these. I was able to fill two large suitcases with clothing in all sizes, brand new backpacks and school notebooks.  Jude prepared a special backpack for Antoni with some toys and things for him.

Two other girls helped me, and at the end of the afternoon on Sunday Katherine was able to hand Gloriana a brand new backpack full of notebooks and school supplies and watched Gloriana’s eyes fill up with tears. In the midst of chaos and disaster at least the children can continue in school!

While we were going through donations 13 year old Oliver spent the entire day digging through the ashes and cleaning up.

“Let’s get rid of all this so we don’t have to remember it anymore.”

When we returned he was covered in soot, but had made a huge dent in cleaning.

This is the house today. They have a bottom story but it is just a small kitchen, which is now where they eat, sleep and live.

One thing I’ve been talking about with the mom is how we are a body in Christ. When one part suffers, we all suffer.

So many people here in Jaco have been praying and concerned about this family. There are many that want to help. What we would like to do is coordinate our efforts and go in as a church community, full of local people, to help this family re-build their house.  It’s a chance for local believers to put their faith in action and reach out in tangible ways to their neighbor in need.

When we respond to physical needs, we are meeting spiritual needs as well. When people in crisis see a faith community respond this ministers to weary hearts and souls.

God does work all things together for good. Out of disaster he builds community. Out of devastation he is building faith, hope, love and trust. If we as the body would only step up and respond, this is an opportunity to take what the enemy means for evil and bring glory to God out of it.

Would you like to help us be able to do this? If you would like to donate toward building materials, please let us know! You can email us for more information: fivefreemans@gmail.com

I Thought She Was Going To Die

August 22, 2012

Do you remember my beautiful friend Karina?

If you saw her today, you wouldn’t recognize her.

You see, she’s been really sick, almost to the point of death. And now she is so thin, her clothes hang off of her, her eyes are sunken in, and she’s been so weak she can barely move.

It all started the beginning of June.

Together with another neighbor, we were planning a project with Karina called, “Manos de Dios,” which means “Hands of God.” Karina was going to start an in-home daycare. Sarah had a team come and build a cute, white picket fence around her yard. I had donations ready to go, and trainings in place so she would be trained in child development and caring for children.

The plan was more than just a business for Karina to be self-sustainable. It was going to be a light house for her community, modeling the value of children to the neighborhood. It was going to be a safe place for young children while their parents were working, and a way for Karina to provide for herself and her family. Everything was in place, ready to go. The date was set. Fliers made.

And then Karina got sick.

She got Dengue fever and started losing weight rapidly. She had diarrhea and vomiting so bad she would pass out just trying to get to the bathroom.

It was so horrible.

Then she started to get better but just never fully recovered. She got weaker and weaker, thinner and thinner. To the point that two weeks ago, I was scared when I saw her because I thought she was going to die.

That’s when Sarah stepped in and took her to a private clinic. The public clinic just wasn’t doing anything for her. Sarah took her in and her sugar was so high she was about to have kidney failure. She stayed in that clinic for hours with insulin pouring into her veins, just trying to regulate her blood sugar.

Now she’s on the road to recovery. But it’s slow. She has diabetes. This is a life style adjustment. Karina has to learn a new diet and new way of living dealing with this illness. She also has temporary blindness right now related to her elevated sugar which impairs all areas of her life.

In the midst of all of this Karina has been working cleaning a hotel. It’s a hotel that rents by the hour in one of the worst spots in town. But she’s getting by, barely.

One of the things that’s hard right now is every time she needs to check her blood sugar she has to go all the way across town to the clinic. The nurses at the clinic have encouraged her to try to get her own gluco-meter in home so she can test her own sugar. But this costs about $60. Way more than she has.

“…you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.” ~ James 4:2

We’re asking God for a Gluco-meter for Karina, specifically today.

We’re asking for more than just that, though. We’re asking for healing and health. For the promise of God who says He works all things together for good. We’re asking for Karina’s blood sugar to stabilize so we can move forward with the vision of “Manos de Dios.”

We’re asking for God to continue pouring His spirit on this family that they would be strengthened and sustained and a light for their community.

But today, just for today, we need a glucometer.

If you would like to give towards this or towards Manos de Dios, you can do that here:

~Thank you and God bless~!

The Stuff of Life

August 13, 2012

Life and ministry all comes together at a Sunday morning picnic.

Normal life.


Walking to church, hearing the Word of God, sharing a meal, passing cups of juice, laughing, moms chatting under the shade of a tree while children play.

All the small moments, put together that make a life.



New friendships.


These are the things that create a life that’s rich and full.

Building resilience, prevention and protection in a town full of risks.

In a place where so much is “abnormal” – we need normal.

We need picnics.

We need joy.

We need to be together.

“The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” Ephesians 1:23, The Message

“His love has the first and last word in everything we do.” 2 Cor. 5:14

“When the righteous see God in action they’ll laugh, they’ll sing, they’ll laugh and sing for joy.” – Psalm 68:2

“God is building a home. He’s using us all – irrespective of how we got here – in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day – a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.” Ephesians 2:20-22, The Message