Valley of the Palms – The Dump

I wanted to let you know what I do in my spare time.  Not to worry, I’m not trying to expand what I am already doing or being distracted from the work at hand.  It’s just a place I visit every couple of months.   And this is why I go to visit.

The main source of income for most of the working people in the Canyon is working in the garbage dump in Tecate.  It’s where they moved things when they closed the dump in the Canyon several years ago.  Many of the men, and some of the women, travel there IMG_9618everyday to see if they can make some money.  I remember talking to Miguel one day and he explained that you have to pay for public transportation to get there and back.  If your an outsider, you have to pay for the privilege of working for the day.  What ever you recycle that day, you have to sell back to them.  You can’t take it to a different recycle center, so they can pay what they want.  On a good day, you might make $20 for the day and other days your lucky to break even.  He explains that if he doesn’t go, then he knows there will be no money that day.  But if he goes, there is the possibility.  Plus, they allow you to take home any food or clothing that you find.

So I decided it was time for me to go have a look for myself.  They call the area, Valle de las Palmas – Valley of the Palms.   Looks like dessert with some hills to me.  I did find a few Palm trees near the entrance that had been planted by someone, but they have long since IMG_9669died.  As you turn into the dump area, you can see the massiveness of the land fill and how the huge garbage trucks look like toys as they drive in an out.  I watched as a worker pushed a wheel barrow along the top ridge, overfilled with items he would take home to burn for the metal inside.  As he looked at the long steep slope to the community where he lived, you could see that easiest way to get things down there was to just let go.  It was almost comical to watch the load tumble down the hill as he walked down to put everything back together.

As soon as you pass the landfill, you can see the community.  It reminds you of an old IMG_9619western where you come up on a town or village that has been attacked and burnt to the
ground with only smoldering fires everywhere to show that there was once signs of life here.  But those burning piles were actually signs of life, as many of the workers live here take what they are allowed to.   When you drive into the community, you see that each living area is surrounded by multitudes of old and new burn piles.   When the wind drifts in your direction, it’s not “hard” to breath, it’s impossible to breath.

As I looked around I thought, “wow – I thought the Canyon was bad.”  This is some desolate land with no trees or vegetation.  There is no water within miles and there are no power poles from which to steal electricity from.  For the most part, these aren’t even houses; at best shacks.  To the right, you see a large area surrounded by walls that preventIMG_9656 you from seeing inside.  This is the compound where the main drug dealer lives.  To the left, set apart from most everything else, is a Church.  Well you look at it and see what you would call it.  I met Manuel who has been Pastoring in the community IMG_9625for the past few years.  Every Friday he would drive from the US and bring his projector and speakers to hold services on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.  The projector used to show movies to the children and adults for entertainment.  An old IMG_9643Army Mash type tent covering the roof and a few mismatched chairs and a couple of old wooden benches.  A small kitchen area to cook some food when it was available.  Sometimes joining forces with visiting Church groups who only come on Saturdays.  While other visiting Churches preferred to do things on their own.  Manuel IMG_9654knows most of the people who live there and has been reaching out to them, slowly building relationships.  Some became volunteers, not only helping on weekends, but keeping an eye on things during the week.  Manuel would need to return to the US each week so that he could work and earn enough money to do this again the next week.

As I walked around, much of it felt familiar to me.   All the more IMG_1059so when I start running into people that I knew.  I found Lidia and her children visiting her sister who lives here.  I IMG_9638see a man who looks just like Pollo from the Canyon and find out that it’s his brother.  I find Dalia and Jesse living in a 4 foot tent structure next to the Church.  We had lost track of them several months ago when weIMG_9631 heard that Jesse had beaten Dalia so bad that everyone thought she was dead.  Jesse’s mom, also from the Canyon now lives here.  And many of IMG_9719you remember Maribel.  She saw my truck as I was driving in and ran down to visit.

This place is not like the Canyon where people will come out from where they live when they see you drive up to see if you have blessings to share with them.  When you set up to cook a meal to share with them, there are no long lines.  Mostly because they are up working in the dump.  And if they are home, they are not interested in eating.  The drug dealers like them to keep buying drugs so that maybe they will work double shifts increasing the dealers profit all the more.  

On a couple of occasions, I was surprised to see the Police drive in.  It’s wasn’t like they were patrolling or on a call.  They just kind of drove straight to one location each time.  I was later informed that they were here only to pick up their “take” for the week.

I have even gone inside the dump itself to where they are working.  A group sets up food to
IMG_9730serve, something cold to drink and playing worship songs.   Even then, the workers are 
reluctant to stop for more than a few minutes to eat.   They just gather accept the food and walk off to a remote area to quickly eat.   Some of the workers live right in theIMG_9743 dump itself. Tents and shacks are set up so they can keep working.   Even a little store so they can buy food and drinks at a steep price so they don’t have to leave the work area.   A few people lucky enough to have a truck,

IMG_9737drive around offering to buy what workers have collected for the day at a reduced rate.  They load up the truck and drive it over to the recycling area and turn it in for a profit.   The workers follow behind the in comingIMG_9735 garbage trucks as they dump their load.   Each worker specializing in various types of plastic or metal.   They work on their collection until the next truck comes in and all race to follow behind it for a new load.

The smell is horrific. I can’t imagine how long it takes to get used to it or if you can.  It took 3 days before the smell stopped permeating my nostrils after just a few hours of visiting. The toxic waste and drugs have had an incredible IMG_9751impact on the people here.  I watched as one man, donning a pair so swimming goggles and the bottoms of a wet suit accepted a cup of water.  He walked a few steps away and poured the water over some rocks.  I watched as he did this twice more without ever taking a sip of the water.  I’m not sure he had enough consciousness to realize what he was doing.  I watched as a visiting Church member walked over to talk with him.  Wow….talk about a tough mission field.

One of the things that I have learned is that if your going to survive here, you have to keep your expectations low.  In this case, it’s better to have no expectations at all and you will be pleased with any growth you might see.  Here is why…

Several months after meeting Manuel, things got even worse.  The drug dealers did not like him being there.  If he got people to start thinking about living a different life, they would stop buying drugs and it was hurting their business.  The drug dealers don’t send their Attorney’s to talk to you.  They send their enforcers.  And the volunteers who were helping and serving – jealousy, pride and selfishness soon raised it’s ugly head.  Together, they broke into the Church, stole everything of value and burnt the travel trailer that was just brought in to serve as the new Church.  Everything was lost, including the things that Manuel brought each weekend.  And he soon learned that they had more in store for him if he chose to return.  It’s been about a year since Manuel has been back.  Andres has taken over for him as the local representative and holds services, but he has no support or funding.  Things have deteriorated even more so over past months.

But from the ashes….

I went back out a few weeks ago to visit.  I saw that what was left of Manuel’s Church was still there, not not with any signs of progress and not much life.   However, just beyond it, IIMG_1008 found another make shift Church.  Set up by La Roca Ministries that have been visiting there on week ends for a long time.   There are four walls, but no roof as of yet.  They sectioned off a small area inside for a classroom for the children.  They offer Church IMG_1012services on the weekends and bible studies during the week.   The best part is they have set a small travel trailer along side the Church and they staff it with rotating volunteers who stay all during the week.  In the IMG_1019mornings, “Nacho” and the others prepare a modest meal for the children and anyone else who would like to participate.    They also help get the children to school in the mornings and play soccer with them in the afternoons.   They even IMG_1026have old playground equipment set up there, which looks really out of place in area like it is, but what a blessing it is to have.   We found a little girl walking around by IMG_1037herself, so we took her over to play for awhile on the playground.  They also have been developing relationships with the people who live there and started building their volunteer base from the community. 

While I was visiting, one of the locals took me for a short walk.   Just beyond the community, he pointed out a large area where the land had recently been cleared.   He IMG_1015explained that a Church from LA had been visiting and they were talking about building a large complex with not only a Church, but with a kitchen and dinning area as well as bathrooms and maybe even showers.  I have no idea if this is just rumor or conjecture, but it was good to envision the possibility.

The first time I visited the dump community, I was so excited to see all that was going on there and hearing about possible plans for the future.  Such an undeveloped mission field with so many possibilities.  I have never felt called to do anything there myself, just visit the people we knew and support theIMG_9756 work being done there.  I would share what ever extra we might have and it felt good to visit a community that I am sure is now what the Canyon was 15 years ago.   I must admit that I was really discouraged to hear how Satan took such a strong foothold in people’s hearts there and felt somewhat defeated.  I kept waiting for a sign that some one would “storm the gates of Hell” (like Pastor Ken likes to say.)  But with all things, it’s in His timing.  I am so much more encouraged now that I see ministries working to build a foundation for the work that is to come.   Like I said, I have no expectations, other than the excitement that comes from knowing things will be different. 

I just wanted to share with you what I see.  Not for any other reason than to show how much need there is out there.   I’m guessing that there are at least 25 other countries that can share similar stories.    Maybe it’s just an opportunity for us to appreciate our circumstances and where we were born and say a prayer for the children who were born in places like this.

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If you could see what I see…

I think of myself as a pretty fortunate person. I get to wake up each day, which is something I no longer take for granted. God has blessed me with more than what I need, for which I am extremely thankful. And He gives me Opportunity. Everyday, he gives me the opportunity to live a better life today than I did yesterday. He gives me the opportunity to serve others in his name, something I do not deserve. Everyday, he places opportunities in front of me daveto see what I will do. I used to look at these as obstacles, things I tried my best to avoid because they got in the way of me being able to do what I planned for the day. So each day I confess my sinful nature and ask that I would be driven with His wants and desires and that I would think and speak and act in a way that would be pleasing to HIM. So as I go into the mission field each morning, there is a sense of peace in knowing that the day is not going to unfold as I planned and with a bit of excitement in knowing that God has something planned for me that I could not foresee.

As I arrive at Ben’s Closet in the mornings, the building is already in full operation. Tony (now married) has already opened the building at 7am to make sure everything is clean and ready before the first volunteers show up. IMG_0311Francisca arrives shortly afterward to start making the 35 brown bag lunches for the kids in the Elementary school.  Nanci and Elena (now a volunteer) arrive soon after to help handing out lunches as the kids line up just as school opens. Martita shows up to make coffee for our visitors and sets out cookies.  Pachcho typically accompanies her to make sure she makes it safely and then stands outside to help usher the children in and make sure no one bothers our vehicles.  Karina and her baby arrive bringing a weeksIMG_0933 worth of food for the school lunch program and reviews the daily menu with the volunteers.  Veronica and Alex arrive and help begin preparing lunch for the 65 children in Kinder. They all wait until I arrive so that we can share a few words, talk about any current needs, and then stand in a circle, hold hands, pray for each other and give thanks for all that He has given us this day.

All of this has happens without me.  It’s only the line of people waiting to see IMG_0301me that reminds me that I still have something that I need to do.  Everyone wants to talk to me before I have gotten out of my truck.  As I put my things away, I find Martita in the doorway IMG_0914holding a cup of coffee for me and I know I am ready for the world.

 As I look to see those who are waiting, I see children huddled together in front of the computers, playing their favorite games or listening to their favorite music video.

I begin meeting with families and I can’t help but think of their history.  Like Consuelo and her adult daughters.  How 8 months ago, Consuelo lived in a one room 10410534_10204128666154959_532595469361671919_nshack with a dirt floor, no windows, no running water, and how six people all slept on a single IMG_0399queen mattress.  And how today, Consuelo has a brand new house that is hers, with her own bedroom and a loft for her daughter’s room and a kitchen and sitting area.  She has even found a way to make money at home while she watches her grandchildren.

I look at her daughter Yolanda, who just a few years ago had triplets and was IMG_0108told there was little chance of their survival.  Yet today, the triplets are running around with all the other children.  And how Yolanda had anotherIMG_0160 baby this past summer. When the baby was born, he needed immediate surgery, with little likelihood of surviving.  Yet today, he is a health baby boy.  She brings the children to see me every week with runny noses, coughs, chicken pox and a variety of other ailments, just like other families. We do what we can to cover the costs of doctor’s visits and medications.

I look at Conseulo’s daughter Petra and her 3 children. Once sharing that queen size bed with her mom and children, Petra now has her own house. IMG_8096 (1)Actually a one room shack, but it is hers.  She sold her pick up truck and bought a house and property from her brother.  There is even additional space to build another room in the future.  We’re working on getting her some insulation in the walls and roof in hopes of cutting back on the wind and cold so that she and the children are not as sick as often.  She too comes to visit every week with colds and coughs.

And her third daughter, Ana.  She and her husband live adjacent to Petra.IMG_0291 Two young girls and another one on the way. Her husband came to me asking for a loan so that he could add on to their one room home. He IMG_0281borrowed enough to build the walls and put up some siding, but didn’t have enough for the roof or windows. I had a couple of windows donated this summer along with some roofing materials.  Plus someone just sent a IMG_0309donation to use for what ever was needed, so we were able to purchase the material to build the roof.  Her husband wanted me to add the costs to his loan, but I could see that it would be a debt that might be more than he could manage.  So we agreed that he would be responsible for the loan he originally asked for, and the rest was a blessing from God.

You can see that with the School lunch program, access to computers, the free Attorney services (which has expanded to 3 days a week), school sponsorships and the line of families to meet with, Ben’s Closet IMG_0452II seems to have a life of it’s own. On Tuesdays, Martita and Petra (now a volunteer) go with me to Ben’s Closet III to package salt, sugar, beans, pasta, flour, cooking oil in preparation for handing out dispensa’s the next day.  When I arrive on Wednesday at the new location, there is always a long line of families waiting.  Martita hands our playing cards as a way of giving everyone a number.  We currently are able to help about 30 to 35 families, yet we still have a waiting list.  I try to spend time talking with each family, getting an update on how things are and if they still need our help or if we can add someone else to the list.

All the while, I can hear Magda outside cutting ceramic tile for the bath rooms and showers and sinks.  A project she has been working on since magda 1November, but I remind myself that this is Mexico, and things get done little by little.  We’re still dependent on help from the Government to get the water, electric and sewer hooked up, so I find myself praying for patience as the months go by.  I have faith that there is a reason for the delay and I find peace in that – unlike how I would have reacted if this was a IMG_0446project in my old life. In the meantime, we have figured out how to get electricity to the buildings and are working on running a water line from a neighbors house until we can get legitimate hookups.

I have some good news!  We finally have everything in place with the Non-profit Corporation and 501C3.  I am now listed at the President of La Mision Ministries and Jarilyn is currently helping as Vice President.  We now have a US bank account in the name of La Mision Ministries, so donations can be made out in this name for tax purposes.  We’ll still use my mailing address so as not to make too many changes at once.

I have had a lot of questions recently about school needs and how that works. Someone was just asking about the differences between the two schools that are in front of us. The elementary school is for 1st through 6th grades and IMG_0898is a Government school.  They do not charge a monthly fee, but they do have several fees that the parents have to pay before the kids can start. The main stumbling block for families is the cost of uniforms and supplies. We have found that for about $160 each, we can buy a back pack, all the listed school supplies, shoes, tennis shoes, uniforms and gym clothing, along with start up fees.  Although everything may not be brand new or a complete uniform, we find that we can typically get them everything they need to get started.  

The kindergarten (Blue Tarp School) is a little different in that it is a private school.  Not for profit.  It’s just that there are not enough schools for allIMG_8093 the children here, so it’s not uncommon to have private schools.  The Blue Tarp School charges a small monthly fee to help with their operating costs, which is less than other private Kinders.  I’ll share with you the cost breakdown that Profe Lili gave me for this coming year:  Registration – $10, Materials – $20, ID and Pictures – $10, Insurance – $8, and monthly fees – $100.  Then they have to have uniforms, sneaks and a back pack which can be about another $100.  That’s why we estimate it costs about $250 for a child going to the Blue Tarp School.  We don’t do any fund raising events and we don’t ask for donations.  We do the best with what ever comes in for those with the greatest needs, unless someone has asked to sponsor a specific child or family.  Hope that helps in understanding.

I’m really excited to tell you about a surprise visit I got last week.  I was sitting in Church service and I felt little groping hands on the back of my neck.  As I turned around, there stood Armando with a big grin on his face. His sister Arianna and IMG_0295mother, Maribel were outside waiting for me. The children have been living with different families members since DIF (social services) got involved about 2 years ago.  They are now staying with one of Maribel’s sisters.  It’s obvious that the children are doing very well and like their current home life.  Both are healthy, happy and well dressed. The best part is that they are both in school and have caught up on all they have missed in past years.  I would like to say that Maribel looks like she is doing better, but she looks the same.  I can tell she misses the children a lot, but she knows that it is best that the children are with her sister for now.

And one last update on Martitia.   Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember what she was like when I first met her.  A petite little woman, too shy to stand with the others in the breakfast line, dressed in shabby clothes, arms blackenIMG_7728 to her elbows.  Later in the day, I might find her in the cemetery rummaging through smoking burn piles in search of bits of metal.  I remember the little plastic pail she would collect her bounty in so that she would trade it for enough money to buy a little food.  But more likely, the money would allow her to buy drugs so that she wouldn’t need to eat. Most days she would pretend she didn’t see me or she would duck through a doorway.  On good days, she would come to Ben’s Closet II for coffee and cookies.  Over time, she began to feel more comfortable and would stay to chat with the volunteers.  She began to have more good days than bad days.  She would take the 5 pesos she had and buy bread and bring it back and share it with the other people in the office.  One day she explained that she and her “esposo” decided to only buy drugs once during the week and the rest of the week, they would use their money to buy food.  I had to admire her determination to make a change when no one was asking her to.  Within months, she came to talk to me again. Tears filled her eyes as she explained that she had gone all week without doing any drugs.  She was afraid to tell me before because she was afraid that she couldn’t do it.

Today, Martita is a much different women.  Not as petite as she once was, but proud of the effect that food has had on her body.  Clean clothes, hair made up and even make up on some days.  Proud of her ability to go another day without drugs.  Not wanting to live like she used to live.  Soon the weeks turned to months.  Each time we helped her celebrate her 109869martita newvictory.  In about a month, Martita will have been drug free for an entire year.  Today she is one of our most dedicated volunteers and now leads groups on tours of the Canyon.  She goes to Church every week and also helps serves in their ministries.  This year, she took a big step and went on the Church’s mission trip deep into Mexico.  She cried uncontrollably as she described her experiences. She has been in contact with her children and grandchildren in the US for the past several months and renewed those broken relationships. Even though she can not read or write, she has her own Face Book page.  We are all so very proud of her and the person that she is today.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the update and are encouraged by the progress although it may come slowly.  I remember when I first came here. I felt like I was “on the outside looking in.”  I remember how the sights and sounds and smells offended my sense of what I was used to.  How difficult I found it to understand and accept life here.  But things have changed over time, slowly, little by IMG_9791little.  As I walk around, visit with families, help with various projects, share in a meal cooked over an open fire, I’m starting to feel like I am “ on the inside looking out.”   It no longer feels strange to me.  I no longer feel an inner struggle with what I see.  I feel like I am a small part of it.  It’s just life here.  It no longer seems so different.   Not sure what all that means.  Just that I feel more comfort and contentment in being here and hope that it is God’s plan for me to continue working for HIM here.  I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers that you send this way and am just as excited as the people here that you would think of us.

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Ben’s Closet III

I love moments when unexpected things happen.   I’m at the new office this morning helping one of the mom’s with some food for her family whenIMG_0260 she commented how she keeps seeing the sign’s for Ben’s Closet and asked what they were about.  It was so awesome to have the opportunity to tell the story of Ben and the inspiration that his life has had on his parents, Polly and Dave, and many others and how all of this has been possible because of their work and the caring hearts of so many people.

I vividly remember going into the beginning of this year wondering what God might have in store for us.    I had no idea there was going to be a Ben’s Closet III.   I just remember how difficult it was to concentrate because of all of the activity going on; Zumba music blasting from the upstairs room, people waiting to see the Attorney offering free Family Law consultations, people waiting for help with food, tarps, medicines, propane, school supplies – all the volunteers coming and going as they prepared lunches for the kids in school, kids wanting the coloring books or asking to use the computer or watch a movie, people dropping in for a cup of coffee and some cookies, the children heading to the IMG_6673computer lab.  I looked around at all of the shelves in my tiny office (Ben’s Closet II) holding all the resources we offer,  thinking how I might be able to carve out some additional space so that I could talk in private or pray with families without being interrupted.   It’s was hard to imagine how just a year and a half earlier, there was nothing going on in the building at all.

Just then, there’s a knock on the door and it’s someone from the Government.    Someone I have known a long time from the local Church. His wife is with him and he asks me if I would be interested in having access to the abandoned property just up the road from us. My mouth drops open and I’m in awe.  This is the property that I had been looking at two years ago.  Every time I drove by it, I would stop and day dream aboutIMG_9045 kids playing there and what could be done with the vacant buildings that were just sitting there.  It must have been something of value at one time, because it was a huge piece of property with chain link fence all around it and a large cement basketball court.  I found out that it was owned by the Government and asked if I could rent the property, but they declined the request.    Allthough I stopped trying,  I kept day dreaming about it.    And all of a sudden, they came and asked if I would like to use it for free.    Talk about God’s timing and in God’s own way. They gave me the keys that day.

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As you might imagine, that answered a lot of questions and put a lot of things into motion. The property had been abandoned for a long time and needed a lot of repairs not to mention things like electricity and water.   There was no remaining wiring or water lines.  As I was evaluating what might need to be done, I kept day dreaming about what could be done there.   I keep hearing the children playing there in my day dreams.   I envision buildings and play ground activities.   As I began to tell others about what I could see, Mike and Kate Logan said that I should call it “Iwanna Minsisties, because every sentence started with “I wanna”.   I wanna build some bathrooms with flush toilets and hot showers so that kids who bathed with cold water from a bucket could experience their first hot shower.   I wanna build a large outdoor cook area so that the people of the community can use the land and have a place to prepare food, with outdoor sinks that are easily accessible. I wanna build a care taker house so that a family would have a nice place to live and be able to act as security for the property.  I wanna build multi purpose rooms so they could be used to provide resources to the families.  I envision a room where the mom’s could prepare their own baby food and store it on site until it is needed.  I envision a room where they could hold evening bible classes or a 12 step program.  I envision a room that might entertain children while their mom’s go to work.  I envision a room where the people who offer to give back would cut hair for free, do woman’s nails for free, where clothes could be set out for distribution, where government officials could meet with the community, where American groups could host activities.

I was a little embarrassed when I realized that I was starting every sentence with “I wanna.”   But I knew in my heart that I was just verbalizing what I could see in my head.   I was not prepared to do much more than talk about it.   I never had any intention of trying to ask for money or to forge ahead with some type of fund-raising idea.   God made it very clear to me early on that was not what he sent me to do.    He just asked that I IMG_0087make myself available and he would take care of the details.    And true to form, all of a sudden, people like Sandra and Gary asked to help with the foundation for the Care taker house, New Hope Church from Anaheim not only funded the construction of the house, but also came and built it in just over a day,  someone who won’t let me IMG_0270mention their name sent money to start work on the bathrooms, a group is driving from Arizona to help repair the roof and fix the fence, and a Junior in high school is working on a year long project to provide resources to  the families here through this community center.

Although slowly, the work has begun.   Magda was kind enough to offer her skills and laid a new title floor in my new office and waiting room.  The office is finished and shelves are up and stocked with dispensa’s, building materials, tarps and sleeping bags, baby formula, and medical supplies.  I had repaired several panels of sheet rock in the lobby area and Magda again offered her services to tape and texture.  The day the care taker house was constructed, Cesar and his two boys moved into the house so that the property would beIMG_0265 protected.  Within days he had run electrical to the house “Mexican style” and even found a porch light to put outside.  I purchased paint for the exterior and over a weekend he had the whole thing painted.  I ordered sheet rock delivered and by the time I got over there, he had finished installing it and was ready to tape and texture.  A visiting mom dropped off some used kitchen cabinets, which will go nicely in his kitchen.   Friends of Jim O’camb had given him some use ceiling fans that will not only help cool off the house, but also both offices.  Martita’s husband, Hugo, came by asking when we would be ready to pour the slab for the bathrooms.   I kept looking at all that is needed to be done and wondering how I was going to find time to keep up with things, when the local families come and offer their help as a blessing.   A stranger walks by and sees what we are doing and volunteers his services to run the electrical wires into the buildings.  A group from Strongtower Ministries shows up and digs ditches for drainage and textures the lobby.  The Dyslin Family comes and paints puts all the finishing touches on the lobby so that we can open to meet with families.  And then I get a call telling me that there is funding available to have guys from Juan’s house in La Mision to start coming up to help with the projects.   What an incredible experience this has been!

Hence, we have just opened Ben’s Closet III.   Although we don’t have electricity or water on site as of today, God gives us plenty of sun light to illuminate the offices and everything else that we really need.   I was on my way into the Canyon and drove past a second hand IMG_0261store that had a bunch of matching office chairs.  So we now have 6 matching chairs for people to sit in as they wait.  We even have people lined up to help with a grand opening celebration; a Christian Rap group to provide music, the Zumba Class wants to dance for the event, mom’s have volunteered to cut kids hair for free, other mom’s have volunteered to do nails, people who want to cook and serve food…. So as soon as we get water and electricity, we will plan a grand opening celebration for the community.

Some of you might be wondering if this is a change in direction.  Far from it!  It’s simply expanding what we have been doing already.    All of the school programs remain at Ben’s Closet II.   The volunteers will be able to easily get what they need out of the office without worrying about interrupting anything.   It will be a little easier for the Attorney to meet with her clients without so much traffic.   The volunteers can prepare lunches right there instead of moving everything back and forth between rooms.    Karina returned from Argentina in December and has returned overseeing things there 3 days a week so that I can work at Ben’s Closet III to administer the community types of programs.   There has been a slight change with Karina as you may notice in the pictures (baby),  so we will see how long she is able to keep an eye on things as she may have her hands full soon.

IMG_6324Tony finished bible college in December and has returned to the Canyon to serve at Ben’s Closet for at least this next year.  He has been a huge blessing.   He is bilingual and able to help with with translations much faster and effectively that Google translate.   He has such a Christ like heart and has been renewing his relationships with people as well as developing new ones.   I can see him leading bible studies and helping lead a 12 step program in the near future.   I see great potential in his leadership abilities and I try to teach him to do what I do, so that I can be free to go out and visit with families and look at projects people ask for help with.  Ultimately, the measure of success is for all of this to run without me being there.

This leaves me with two final thoughts.  One is that I know that some people might wonder what you can do to help.   I can’t answer that for you, but I have been amazed in the creative ways people have found ways to help.   How Dave uses his gift of cooking to sell lunches at his work site to raise funds, how people like Phil have come up with a recycling idea to raise funds, how children have found creative ways to raise funds through classroom activities, how a 16 year old boy named David raised funds to build two houses.   I am always in awe when I hear these stories.

The other question I get asked is, “what is the most critical need right now?”   I would have to say school sponsorship’s.   The school year isn’t even over yet and every day I have IMG_8898mom’s coming in to ask if we might be able to help their children with their school needs for this next year.  I have been asking them to come back in a few weeks and I will start making a list of the families and their needs.  Then we’ll see what happens and what is available.   I had a mom come in this week with the same request.   She has 4 children, 3 in elementary and 1 in secondaria (6th- 9th grade).  She was hoping that we might be able to help the three younger children and is resolved that she will not be able to keep her oldest child in school.   Just one of the realities here.

We have been so fortunate in recent years in being able to help about 80 kids to go to school.   We don’t focus on the children at the Blue Tarp School.   We try to make sure that families that are connected to the various Church’s are helped equally and look for the families that have no connections at all so that they also have an equal chance of their children going to school.   Our thought is that with an education, they would have a chance to have a life outside of the Canyon.   The statistic is that for every 100 children who start school, only 2 will have the chance to go to college.   We are very fortunate that we have been able to keep 2 girls stay in high school this whole past year as well as 2 other girls stay in college.   We are hoping that me might improve that statistic.

There is one more thing that I want to talk about.   It’s what is more important than anything that I have talked about so far.   It’s actually in the struggles that I find the most joy.   Not initially, but later on.  I love having conversations with families when I point around the room – to the food, the clothes, the medicine, the building supplies, the school supplies, the diapers and formula and all the things we are able to provide.  Those are all material “things”.   Although they may be a huge blessing to them at the moment, what is IMG_0073really important are the relationships.   It’s not just “the getting to know each other” part of things.  It more about when we trust each other enough to share our struggles, when we are honest enough to talk about what is really going on, when we put aside our negative feeling for others and learn to work along side one another, when we find ways to resolve turmoil between us, to forgive and forget, to bring our struggles before God, to ask for his guidance in our days as we pray together.  Our days are by no means full of success stories and parties.    Out of the midst of our struggles, we see examples of changed lives and learn to celebrate our little successes.   That’s what gives us hope and encouragement.

 

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Rosie’s Story

I met Rosie several months ago.  I would normally see her standing on the outskirts of what ever project we were working on near her house or when visiting at Ben’s Closet.  At first, I wondered if she was one of the Mom’s who would stand close by, holding her child, IMG_9594hoping we would notice and then bless her with something.  But she never approached anyone or asked anything.  Soon, it became clear that she was just shy and that was her nature.

I would see her more and more often at Ben’s Closet.  What I liked most, was that she still didn’t ask for anything.  She just stayed and visited with the other people who were waiting to see me.  As time went on, I invited her into my office to talk and got to know a little about her family situation.  She and Julio, live with her parents in a small house near the school.  Julio is one of the few who are able to work everyday.  He works in the garbage dump in Tecate, about an hour away.  He has to pay $10 a day just to get back and forth and then another $12 to be able to work in the dump.  If he is lucky, he might clear about $10 for a day’s work.  But when it rains or when he is sick, he is not able to work.  So I added their name to the list of families that receive food each week during the times they struggle.

IMG_9592Within a short time, Rosie began to come in and ask me to pray for her family and for her relationship with Julio.  She would always bring her son in with her who is almost 2.  He would sit and stare at me with his thumb in his mouth from on hand and the other hand down the front of her shirt.  Seemed to be his most comfortable position, which always makes me laugh.  Rosie would leave after wards and return a short time later forgetting to ask for the food.  She has been coming for prayer almost every week for the past couple of months.

Today, she came in and asked for prayer again.  Tony was with me and helped to translate. We asked her why she seemed so sad.  She explained that they had lost their other son Samuel last July.  He was only 2 ½ years old.  He went into convulsions one day and they took him to the hospital, but Samuel did not survive.  She has been grieving his loss and has been thinking a lot about it and how much she misses him.  She went on to explain that she and Julio used to go to Church, but after that happened, they had stopped.  They have been angry with God for taking their son from them.  This gave Tony and I an opportunity to talk with her about God.  Without going into all the details of the conversation, we talked about free will, how God uses the things that happen in our lives, how important the grieving process is, how he understands when we get angry, and how patient he is and how he waits for us and longs to have a relationship with him.  But if we stay away, if we distance ourselves, if we harden our hearts, we grow farther away and separate ourselves from the Grace and Love that God has for us.  It’s in these moments that give us the opportunity to open that door.

One of the best parts of the conversation was being able talk about the very room that we were sitting in – Ben’s Closet.  I was able to tell her the story about Ben, about how much IMG_7125he loved to come to Mexico and visit the Canyon, how he had given the shirt off his back to someone who needed it, how he died in a car accident, how his Mom was right behind him in her car after it happened, how much Dave and Polly grieved, how much it hurt, how they were angry, how they struggled in their grief.  But then, over time, how God showed them how to use what happened in their life, to be able to help others.  How the church family surrounded Polly as she grieved and over time she was able to use those experiences to help others in similar situations to grieve and how she leads others in the process.  And how her husband Dave learned to use his passion for cooking to sell food in order to raise funds that pay for the food that we provide to the families here, the medicines we are able to provide when the babies are sick, to help with school needs, with the clothing and blankets we are able to share with families.  I tried hard to explain how this wasn’t about handing “things” out.  It was really about building relationships with families for God’s purpose and glory.

I don’t know if she understood everything I was trying to convey to her.  I was just glad I had the opportunity to be able to have the discussion.  I can see – with my eyes – many of the struggles that people face each day.  I can see the dirt floor and leaky roof.  I can see the lack of food and the effects it has.  I can see what poverty does to a person’s spirit. IMG_7173 I can see how the drugs change them.  I can see the desperation in their eyes when their baby is sick.  I can even see the signs of a broken heart.  But what I CAN’T see, is WHAT breaks their hearts.  It’s not until they come to ask for prayer that I get a chance to see what it is.  It’s not until they are tired of trying to handle their struggles in secret and on their own are they willing to do something different.  It’s not until they have figured out that they are powerless to do anything, until they are humbled enough, to recognize that they need to ask for God’s help.

Don’t get this wrong, I’m not a Pastor.  I’m not foolish enough to think that I am in that kind of position.  I kneel beside them on the floor as we pray and first give thanks that we are able to humbly come before HIM to bring our struggles and ask for guidance.  I figure oange chair my job is to “get them to the doors” and into an orange chair and it’s the Pastor’s job to take it from there. I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to have a relationship with them, to have opportunities to share how Jesus showed us how to handle our struggles, and to be part of their journey.  Like the little boy walking along the beach throwing all the sand dollars he comes across that have washed up on the beach, I have no illusions that they will all be impacted by what we do.  I’m just looking for that one that does get saved.

I serve others simply because that is what God has asked me to do.  Each day, I hope that we will have that opportunity to talk about the WHY.  You never know when that day is going to come.  It reminds me of when I was raising my girls.  I knew it was important to be around them all the time with all things, because you just never knew when a conversation was going to happen.  You just had to be there for when it did.  So I let Rosie know that she was welcome to come anytime she wanted, to grieve as much as she wanted, that we would grieve with her, and that God would keep an empty seat open for her.  So maybe you will join us as we pray for Rosie and her family in that they would grieve well, their hearts would soften and that they would be comforted with a renewed relationship with God.

IMG_9694I talked with Rosie later about Samuel and asked when the this first anniversary date was.  July 5th.  I asked if she would like to have a celebration to honor him and she really liked the idea.  So maybe you can mark that date on your calendar to say an extra prayer.

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Gratitude

Imagine if you would, going to bed at night in the comfort of your home, in the nice house 1neighborhood where you currently live. Your digesting the huge dinner you had not long ago, the dishes are working their way through the dish water, the kids finally asleep in their rooms, the car alarm set and the truck is secured away in the garage. The coffee maker set so that the aroma in the morning provides incentive to get out of bed. The dogs have settled into their beds glancing up wondering how long you are going to be in the shower before tucking yourself in. All the while trying not to think about all the things you have to do tomorrow; school, lunches, traffic, paying the utility bills, work, meetings, dinner, back to school night….

…. and then waking up in the Canyon.

No need for an alarm clock, the Roster’s have you up well before any sense of normalcy. It’s not the aroma of coffee you smell. It’s the smell of mold and mildew from the previousIMG_6749 rains that have soaked the pieces of carpet on the dirt floor. Your eyes open to the gaps of space in the roof trying to determine if the sun is up yet. Your back aches from the old mattress lying on a piece of wood. You look over to see your children sleeping in bed next to you and on the small love seat that you found discarded along the roadway. As you place your feet on the ground, you look around to see what lies ahead of you today. There’s no need to move, everything is just a IMG_6752few feet away. Except for the bathroom, which might be an outhouse if your lucky or a bucket if not.

You look over at the small cook stove in the corner of the room. Last nights rice and beans still coat the pans they were reheated in. The two plastic cups that everyone shared drinking from, rest on top. No refrigerator to look in, no cupboard to search for what might be available to cook. Actually no food at all. That’s something to work out a little later on.

Looking at the water jugs sitting below the dishes, you remember why last nights pans are still sitting there. There was no water left in the jugs to wash them with. Which means there’s no water to wash with. Looking at the drinking water jug, you see there is only aIMG_8969 few inches remaining. Which do I need to go get first? Do I wake one of the children to help me, or do I just venture off on my own attempting to carry two 5 gallon containers of water the mile and a half away. Maybe it’s best if I just head out on my own. It will give me time to think about how I might find work today.

Meanwhile, mom wakes up to the same sights and smells. Her thoughts gradually gravitate to realizing that the children need to get ready for school. Their school uniforms have not IMG_7711been washed in 2 days, but if they can get through today, laundry will be on the list of things to do. Noticing that her husband is gone along with the water jugs, she hopes he will not be upset when she asks him to go fill the jugs again so that she can wash clothes. But from her perspective, thinking about how long it will take her to scrub everything by hand and the time it will take to air dry the clothes hanging on the fence, she figures he is getting the better part of the deal.

She chooses which of the children to wake first, based on the degree of difficulty it requiresIMG_6744 to get them ready. The 5 gallon paint bucket filled with rain water, serves as the shower. The children try to run as the cold water is poured over them. Unable to escape, standing there shivering as mom soaps them up, waiting for the next dowsing of water over their head. And then on to the next child…..

Before she is finished, the younger ones are saying, “mom, I’m hungry.” How many creative ways can you come up with to hold off their hunger for just a little while more. Knowing that their father will most likely stop to pick up tortillas on his way back. Hopefully he will have enough to buy warm ones today instead of the cold day old ones that are half the price. As she puts their back packs together, gathering up the books and supplies lying around from the day before,her thoughts go to how to make lunches for them. Nothing here today, but there’s still time to put something together and return to the school later on.

Dad returns dripping with sweat as he places both water jugs on the ground. He retrieves the packet of tortillas from his waistband and smiles as he pulls an avocado from his front pocket. Quickly slicing it up into the tortillas as the children surround him with their hands raised in the air. With a few drops of hot sauce, the kids are feed and ready for the walk to school. Dad advises them to be careful as their was rain during the night and the IMGP0161ground outside has turned to mud. Mom wonders if there will be school, knowing that most families will decide not to go today. But knowing how important it is for them to have a chance at a different life, off they go on their 5 mile hike to 3 different schools.

As they arrive at the front gates of each of the schools, all the other children arrive at the same time. Some by car. Mom’s thoughts go to wondering what it would be like to be able to live somewhere where you could have a car and how that life might be. She sometimes thinks about how she is dressed in comparison to the other mom’s and tends to slink away from the others out of embarrassment. But reality soon takes over and her thoughts return to getting back home so that she can figure out what to make them for lunch and then the return trips to the school in just a couple of hours. She looks at the store next door where children line up buying what they will need for lunch thinking about how much easier that would be. However, there is no money for that today, so she starts on her way back home.

When she returns, she finds two small packets of rice and beans next to the cook stove. Scrawled in pencil on a torn piece of paper is a note from her husband. He was able to go with a neighbor to catch a ride to the garbage dump to work for the day. If things worked out well, he would return at night fall with enough money to buy food for dinner and maybe IMGP0227for the next day. If he were able to do this a second day, maybe there would be enough money to buy a candle or two so they could have lights at night. Quickly washing the pans, she prepares the rice and beans and makes burritos for the children’s lunch and for herself. No time to wash the pans again. She needs to hike back to the schools again to bring them lunch. This time she brings one of the 5 gallons jugs so that on her way back she can stop at the Pilar and fill it up for free so that she can do the laundry. Upon returning home, she only has a short amount of time before she has to return to school again to gather the children up for the walk home. It’s only just noon.

When the children are home, they all want to go play. Mom explains that there will be time for that later, but right now they need to help her with the laundry. The children are each assigned a different task of washing, rinsing, scrubbing or hanging. Some tasks can be more fun than others, but not really what they had in mind. When they are finished, they are IMG_0147hoping that now they can go play. However, mom has a different idea. It’s time for homework. Wishing that they might be able to just do it on their own, but knowing that now it’s time for mom to be a school teacher. So everyone goes inside to lay their books out on the bed. (There’s no kitchen table.) Motivation comes in the form of encouraging them to finish so that they CAN go and play. Mom’s motivation is that maybe she will get just a little time to herself along with hoping that the activity will keep their mind off of being hungry for a couple more hours until Dad get’s home.

Then mom remembers that it’s Thursday. The day she hosts Bible Study with some of the other mom’s who live close by. She likes this time together with others who think like she does. It’s a time of gratitude for the blessings that they have in their lives. Thankful for husbands who spend their time looking for work to take care of their families and not out Aliciadrinking and doing drugs. Thankful for all of their children and they are healthy and not in need of medicine or treatment. Grateful that they were able to eat today and had water to drink. And grateful for the opportunity to study God’s word, but mostly for the love that he shows them. And a time to pray for their needs, which gives them hope. For some, it’s the glue that keeps them together.

Just before dark, Dad returns. Although he is visibly tired and dirty, he’s in a good mood. He had a good day. He was able to cover all the costs of working today and made enough to buy food for this evening as well as a little bit for tomorrow. The people he went with promised him a ride again tomorrow which gives him hope of being able to buy something more than just food and water; the candles that his wife mentioned and maybe gas for the cook stove. The week was looking up….

A small fire burns outside to heat up some water for Dad to wash up with and also for the dishes. The morning promises to be a little easier than it was today. The family visits together for awhile and then Dad spends some time reading from the Bible to the children before bed. Not what they really had in mind, but they are happy to have Dad spend time with them and it does make them a little sleepy. Luckily for Mom and Dad as they put them all in their bed, hoping they will fall asleep soon. Darkness surrounds them, but the fire outside provides a little light to see inside. The dogs go to their places on top of the roof to keep an eye out for passer’s by who they may feel the need to protect their territory. Finally it’s time for Mom and Dad to move the children over so they can find room to sleep in anticipation of new opportunities tomorrow.

When I wrote this, there were specific families that I was thinking of.  The thing that has impacted me the most, is the sense of gratitude that each of these families show each day.  They are so grateful for their families, for the work that God provides their men, for the food that God provides for their children, for all of the things that they are blessed with each day.  They are so positive in their outlook on life which is reflected in the smiles on their children’s faces.   These families also serve each day at their Church.  I often hear them saying how when they serve others for just a few hours, God blesses them all day long.

They are such a powerful example for others to see and an inspiration to me each day.

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School Sponsorships

For every 100 children that start school, 10 will not show up on the first day…..      Not for lack of wanting to, but because many cannot afford it.

By the time a child is 13, many, if not most are no longer going to school….      I see it all the time.   They are only required to go to school until the 9th grade. In order to go on to High School, they have to take a proficiency test.   If they don’t have high grades, there is little chance of going on.

If they could go on, they would have to pay tuition.   If the family struggled to cover the costs of uniforms and school supplies when school was free, how would they be able to cover the cost of tuition?

 Out of those same 100 children, only 2 will have an opportunity to go on to college….     Although the cost of tuition can be much less costly here than what we might be used to, what are the odds?

Here are three stories of “children” who made it through all that,  who are part of that 2% that made it past the 9th grade.

This is Mayra…. She is 16 and has the opportunity to go to High School.  If you have been to Church Service at Baja Family Outreach, you probably know her parents, Rosie and Jose who watch the children during Service.  They have very little income.  Jose used to work recycling materials in one of the local land fills, but has been without work for a IMG_8316number of months.   Mayra’s older sister has a job which she uses to help with household needs.  

Mayra has taken her entrance tests and is able to go on to High School if she can cover the costs of tuition. She has to pay about $150 (dollars) before the start of school and then another $150 six months later.   I asked her “what about money for uniforms and school supplies.” (Probably $200)   She responded, “no es importa”, meaning that she would figure that out later, if she was able to come up with the cost of tuition.   School starts in just a couple of weeks.

This is Yessenia!   I’m sure many of you know her.  She is the daughter of Ana and Ysidro who live next door to Baja Family Outreach.   I first met Yessenia when she was 13. IMG_8677She was already very involved in the Church, but they shared stories of how angry and rebellious she had once been.   Today, she runs the audio visual equipment during Services, been part of the Worship team, involved in all the Dramas, helped with the Children’s Ministry and been very active in the youth program.  Yessenia just graduated from High School and has been accepted to attend college in September.   La Universidad Antonoma de Baja California in Tijuana, pursuing a career in Marketing.  Tuition for her is $250 each Semester (3) and another $250 for school supplies.   Much like Mayra’s family, there is very little income for the family.  Ysidro has only had one temporary job since I’ve been here.  Ana is able to make money occasionally by cleaning houses.  Their oldest son Fernando was able to get a job this past year and it’s his income that helps keep things going.

These two girls are pretty amazing.  They both come from large families where they are the ones who have the opportunity to go on because of their hard work and the support of their family.

Here is another cool story … 

This is Fernando, the son of Gilberto that used to help Pastor at Baja Family Outreach. “Fer” is 19 and has a great opportunity before him.   He has been offered a scholarship atfernando the Vanguard Bible Institute in Tepic Nayarit Mexico.  He will be gone for about 10 months with the hope of becoming a Pastor in the future.   For the past several months, he has been working at a Start up Church in Tijuana with his father which has seen amazing growth in a very short period of time.   Although the tuition is covered for him, he still needs about $500 to help cover his food, rent and materials.

In the midst of all the obstacles that keep children from progressing through school, it is so gratifying to be able to share these three stories.   My hope is that we could share more stories like this over time.  That’s why we do what we can to help sponsor children each year.   Not just children at the kindergarten level at the Blue Tarp School, but with children throughout the community.  We work with families that are connected with Baja Family Outreach as well as with Agape Church in the upper part of the neighborhood as well as with the other Churches.  As well as those children I see never wearing a school uniform.   Not going to school because they can’t afford it and not having any connection that might open a door for them.

Although there are many varying factors, the average cost for a full set of uniforms and the list of required supplies, costs a family about $160 for the year –  per child.    The cost for a child going to the Blue Tarp School is a little more at $250, because of the monthly fees.   To help put that into perspective, the average monthly earnings for a parent working 6 days a week is less than $400 a month.   With 3 or 4 kids in school, you can see how much of a struggle this can be.

A lot of you may know Ariana.    Although she is 3 years behind, she was able to finish a full year of school for the first time in three years.   Much of it has to do with her living with IMG_8573Javier and Carolina for the past several months and the family structure that they provide. And the rest of it has to do with Ariana herself.   Instead of trying to motivate her mom, Maribel to keep the kids in school, we worked directly with Ariana.  We told her that if wanted to go to school that we would provide her with everything she needed.  Maribel has asked if we would help both Ariana and Armando, her younger brother, with their school needs again this year.  We set it up so that Javier and his family would be involved in the process this year.

I’ve included some pictures of some of the kids that I know that are in need of help this year.   We do our best to match a child with a sponsor and try to keep you updated on how they are doing periodically during the year.   If we are not able to match the sponsor with a specific child, we will keep you updated in how the funds are being used, such as with partial sponsorships for a specific child or with helping catch a family up when they are behind their monthly payments, or in helping children who are not able to pay for a specific school project or activity.

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 Here is our hope:  

If children were able to get a High School education, they could get a job almost anywhere, which would give them an opportunity to escape the poverty of the Canyon.

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Martha’s Story

IMG_7729 This is Martha….

She lives near the old Cemetery just off the main passage to the upper part of the Canyon where families have encamped in past years since the dump closed. This section of the Canyon is closer to the actual dump site that was covered in dirt by the Government. Large pipes protrude from the ground allowing the methane gas to escape. Although city water and electric are not available, water can be obtained by running a long hose from a nearby neighborhood and electricity is borrowed by running light gauge wire spliced together to power a couple of light bulbs.

I first met Martha a few years ago as she stood in line at the Breakfast Club waiting along with the solitary men in a line out front. With no young children in tow and being quiet and unassuming, it was easy for her to go unnoticed. As I walked the line each morning to greet all those who were waiting for a seat, I noticed how polite she was. I also noticed how blackened her hands and forearms were and how calloused her hands were. Very similar to what I experienced when I met Maribel and Jose. And like so many others, she asked for a small bag of rice and beans each week. martha 1

At the time, I didn’t know where she lived or much about her. But that was something I would soon be learning. When things slowed down in the mornings, I would try to sit with people. That’s when I began to learn the things they struggled with, beyond food: lost jobs, no income, the expenses of school, problems with keeping their children in school, relationship issues, health problems, lack of heat, leaky roofs…. I never heard much from Martha.

As I began visiting more families in their homes, I not only got a closer look into how they lived, but how difficult a day was to just accomplish the simple things like cooking, bathing, laundry and getting the kids to school. All during this time, I would often find Martha bent over a pile of burning rubbish searching for bits of metal, tossing them into a small broken matha 2plastic pale. She would show me what she had found so far, not appearing to amount to much. But for her, it would be enough to buy some tortillas and maybe a little rice for the day. I would find her most often in the Cemetery where people still bring their discarded refuse that would be gone through and then burned to get the metal out. She would be one of the last to get her chance at the pile, hoping to find pieces of metal that others had missed.

I soon discovered that she lived down the road that lead to the upper part of the Canyon, just a few doors down from Javier. After many passes by and greetings, she finally invited martha 3me into her home. Because of what I am used to, I find it difficult to call it a house. The forts I built in the woods as a child were in better condition. But this was her home; where she slept, ate and took shelter from the elements. However, when it rained, it did little to shelter her.

During recent months, Martha began to visit us at Ben’s Closet at the school. She knew that she could get some food supplies at least once during the week and hoped that we might have some clothing, tooth brushes, sleeping bags or other items that we would share with the families from time to time. She knew that if she were sick, there was aspirin, cold medicine, couch drops, and other things that would help get her by. But I think she came mostly for a cup of coffee and the cookies that we set out each morning. There’s even a morning news paper for people to read. Unfortunately, she is unable to read or write, so she has to depend on others to help. I think she just enjoys having somewhere to go where other people gather and just feel at peace with each other. She recently told me that at first she was afraid that I would not want her coming every day, thinking that she would want something all the time. But she could tell that it was OK for her to come and just hang out with the others.

Each day, she saw that people came into my office to talk with me in private. As each month passes, more and more people come to visit. At first, it was always to ask for help with a certain struggle they were facing. There were many things that we could help with, but there were also requests for things that there was nothing to offer them. Except for hope in that it would be put on a list and a Prayer that God would provide.

I remember one time when a visiting Pastor asked, “Where is the Church in all of this?” My answer was that it was “everywhere”. Every time someone says “thank you” for a blessing they received, I explain that I had nothing to do with it and that God knew what their need was and that He was the one who deserved the gratitude. Every time we make a shelter repair or install a water tank or share a water filter, we take the time to makeIMG_7710 sure that the family understands that God is the one who deserves the credit. Every time someone shares a need and there is nothing to help with at the moment, we can always offer them the gift of prayer. Every time I reach out to greet someone with a hand shake, a hug or a kiss on the cheek, it is because of God’s love for us. (Which you will see is the point of this story.)  And every day we encourage the people who come to get connected with one of the local Churches.

In recent months, people have come to ask for prayer and nothing else. This was not something I was expecting. At first, I wondered why they were asking me. But then I figured that if that was what they needed, that was certainly something that I did have. Plus I know other people who also have an open supply of prayer and would be willing to help. It was a little unnerving to have a father and his children kneel as we prayed, but I realized he was kneeling before God, not me. A father who wants to ride himself of drugs brings his wife and children to be present so that we can all pray together. Couples asking for prayer for their failing relationships. Men asking for prayer that God might provide them with work. It is always in these days that I find the most rewarding, in that they would come for something much bigger than what ever I had on the shelves.

Just two weeks ago, Martha said that she needed to speak with me. As we sat in the office, she took a deep breath as she began to share her problems. I would love to share the details with you mainly because of how I have seen God responding to her prayers, but you can understand why I can’t. We prayed in earnest that day and we have met a number of times since then. Which has given us an opportunity to have conversations about what God can do in our lives. She is at that point in her life where she is tired of how things have gone. She wants change in her life and is willing to ask for help. We talked about all the things that God has in store for us and how much he loves her and that he has a plan just for her.

IMG_7750She talked about how difficult it was to have relationships with other people, how difficult it is to trust someone with what we feel. I tried to explain that she was not alone. So many people experience the same thing. But that’s what God wants of us. I pointed to all the physical blessings that surrounded us in Ben’s Closet as we talked. “All of this is nice. It’s great to be able to help people here and that’s what God wants me to do. But what is really
important, above all else, is the relationships that we form with God at the center.” I’ve encouraged her to spend time with other people who are searching for the same thing, other people who are heading in the same direction, other people who know God and want him to be the leader in their lives and that she will find many of them by going to one of the local Churches which will offer her a safe place. A place where she can feel at peace and experience the hope that comes with being in a relationship with God. She has been taking those steps and has already seen a number of positive changes that come with that Journey. So I ask you to include Martha in your prayers when you think of it. I can just imagine what it would do for her to know that there are other people out there that know her name and would take the time to pray for her.

I was just about finished with getting this ready to send out, when Martha came to see me this morning. She was the first one in to my office. She began telling me how her daughter IMG_8311who lives in the U.S. came to visit her this weekend. She brought her husband and children also. Martha had no idea that they were coming and it had been about 8 months since she had seen her last. She was embarrassed at her lack of accommodations, but they made good with what she had. They cooked a meal together and all sat around a table to eat. She described with great joy what it was like to have her daughter and grand children sitting around a table together. She was like a kid at Christmas. Then she reached into a bag she was carrying and brought out the remaining portion of a large bag of rice. She explained that her daughter had blessed her with some rice and beans and she wanted to share the blessing with others. So she brought me a portion of both so that I could share them with others that she knew would be coming to see me. Before leaving, she explained that her daughter said they would be back next month to visit again, which gave her something to look forward to. Martha left this morning without a bag of food to take home with her. That was a first!

(A special “thank you” to Dave and Polly Rathe for their inspiration behind Ben’s Closet and for all their work and effort which keep the shelves full! )   

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