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. ❤


Fire!

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.

Living.

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.

Community.

Smiles.

New friendships.

Relaxing.

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


Stoop Down and Reach Out

August 9, 2012

“Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens and so complete Christ’s law.” Gal. 6:3

I’m thinking about this verse a lot and what it really means.

As I sat this week holding Chorlin while she wept. So much pain.

As I gave Anyeli a message of love and a commitment from myself.

As I reassured Gerald how much I love him – that he’s special to me, because he was upset and needed to hear it.

Ana wanted to be sure that I loved all the kids the same and I don’t have favorites.

Breaking up fights and seeing the hurt and pain in the two boys’ eyes.

The pain these kids go through, the needs they each have is overwhelming. It’s so far beyond what I can do as just one person. Just the needs of my own four boys is beyond me. I can’t do it.

And so I worry – am I setting myself up to fail and let these kids down? Will I be able to be the friend that they need? Am I making promises I can’t keep? By getting this close will I end up just hurting them?

The bottom line question: Is this relational approach to ministry really the way we should go? Maybe we should just back up a little, not get so close, just teach a message, keep it safe?

I voiced these thoughts and fears to Scott last night. We talked about it and then we sat and reminisced about people in our lives who impacted us as children.

The teacher who believed in us, the adult who saw something special and called it out. The people we remember who helped spur us on in our development were the ones who got close enough to touch our hearts. 

It’s scary. It’s risky. It’s messy. There are no guarantees and success is hard to measure.

But focusing on relationship, spending time, pouring our lives into the children, it is what God is asking us to do. To tangibly teach, share and demonstrate his love, day in and day out, patiently, consistently, without fail, whether we’re embraced or spit on, told we’re fools or fall on our faces.

“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.” 1 Peter 4:7


I am the Child

June 25, 2012

by Leslie

I’m sitting here in Wisconsin, getting ready to teach a group of University students who are part of this seminar tomorrow.

The first two days I will be covering children with disabilities and the next three I will go over child development.

As I’m sitting here preparing, I wanted to take a minute and share this poem with you.  We’re going to talk about a lot of hard stuff tomorrow. We’re going to go over many injustices that are happening to children with disabilities around the world. But in the midst of all that, this will be the heart and focus of it all.

I Am The Child

I am the child who cannot talk. You often pity me, I see it in your eyes. You wonder how much I am aware of. I see that as well. I am aware of much … whether you are happy or sad or fearful, patient or impatient, full of love and desire, or if you are just doing your duty by me. I marvel at your frustration, knowing mine to be far greater, for I cannot express myself or my needs as you do.

You cannot conceive my isolation, so complete it is at times. I do not gift you with clever conversation, cute remarks to be laughed over and repeated. I do not give you answers to your everyday questions, responses over my well being, sharing my needs, or comments about the world about me. I do not give you rewards as defined by the world’s standards.. great strides in development that you can credit yourself; I do not give you understanding as you know it.

What I give you is so much more valuable… I give you instead opportunities. Opportunities to discover the depth of your character, not mine; the depth of your love, your commitment, your patience, your abilities; the opportunity to explore your spirit more deeply than you imagined possible. I drive you further than you would ever go on your own, working harder, seeking answers to your many questions with no answers. I am the child who cannot talk.

I am the child who cannot walk. The world seems to pass me by. You see the longing in my eyes to get out of this chair, to run and play like other children. There is much you take for granted. I want the toys on the shelf, I need to go to the bathroom, oh I’ve dropped my fork again. I am dependant on you in these ways. My gift to you is to make you more aware of your great fortune, your healthy back and legs, your ability to do for yourself. Sometimes people appear not to notice me; I always notice them. I feel not so much envy as desire, desire to stand upright, to put one foot in front of the other, to be independent. I give you awareness. I am the child who cannot walk.

I am the child who is mentally impaired. I don’t learn easily, if you judge me by the world’s measuring stick, what I do know is infinite joy in simple things. I am not burdened as you are with the strifes and conflicts of a more complicated life. My gift to you is to grant you the freedom to enjoy things as a child, to teach you how much your arms around me mean, to give you love. I give you the gift of simplicity. I am the child who is mentally
impaired.

I am the disabled child. I am your teacher. if you allow me, I will teach you what is really important in life. I will give you and teach you unconditional love. I gift you with my innocent trust, my dependency upon you. I teach you about how precious this life is and about not taking things for granted. I teach you about forgetting your own needs and desires and dreams. I teach you giving. Most of all I teach you hope and faith. I am the disabled child.

– Author Unknown