International Justice Mission + Uganda + Me = 2010

29 09 2009

The Boston Red Sox, Arizona Cardinals, Golden State Warriors, and Chicago Cubs. Professional sports team with a common theme. They were all long shots. Granted the Cubs have not won a World Series since the 1900‘s, the Cardinals came close and my Warriors can’t keep good players, but the fact remains that these teams share a common theme of being underdogs in some ways and long shots in others.

I happen to resonate with long shots and being an underdog. If you asked me a year ago what I would be doing, I would have told you that I would be enjoying my job as a youth pastor in Texas spending time mentoring and discipling students. If you asked me what I thought of Africa and the country of Uganda, I would have had compassion and told you I would pray for the people serving there. Honestly, Uganda was the farthest thing on my mind. The thought of an AIDS pandemic and extreme poverty caused me to file these situations as someone else’s problem. I rationalized that I was doing my part by praying and giving financially to people and organizations serving there to alleviate the poverty.

A few years ago I became acquainted with an organization called International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a human rights organization founded in 1997 by Gary Haugen to combat the injustice going on throughout the world such as slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of oppression. You can read more about what IJM is about right here.

My view of the world started changing back in the summer of 2008. That August my church hosted a Willowcreek Leadership Summit and one of the keynote speakers was the president of IJM – Gary Haugen. Gary shared his story of working for the US State Department and how he came to start IJM. He shared a childhood story of his family frequently going on hikes. On one particular hike to Mt. McKinley, he was not feeling like making the journey to the top with the rest of the family. About halfway up they stopped at a visitor’s center. The center was great with pictures of the mountain top and a lookout point to see the summit. He decided to stay back while his brothers and father continued to the summit. He shared his regret of staying back and related that even though he could see the summit, he missed out on the adventure. Sometimes our lives as Christ followers can be like staying at the visitor’s center. We have opportunities to follow Christ passionately and serve whole-heartedly yet we often stay back because of fear, uncertainty or we just don’t feel like it. Gary shared that in the journey of following Christ many of us miss out on the adventure. He challenged those attending that Jesus didn’t come to save us so that we could be safe, He came to save us so that we can be brave. He concluded his session with a question: “What brave thing are you doing for Christ?” I, of course, started to rationalize that he wasn’t talking about me. Heck, I was doing my part. I was being brave. I was working with high school students and in Texas. God didn’t buy that excuse. He started putting long shot dreams in my head and ideas that I would never want to do. I started thinking about working overseas. I didn’t know what country but the thoughts started coming into mind. Yet Africa was still not on my radar. I was thinking more of Latin America or Asia.

Months past and then around March I decided it was time to do something. I had no plan, no clue and no logical reason why I should resign my job. But I did it. Shortly after I resigned, I had lunch with some dear friends and they asked me: “Ray what do you want to do and where do you want to serve?” I responded “I don’t know, but here are some organizations that I would like to look into”. I rattled off a bunch of great organizations and then I said IJM. The husband immediately got excited and said that his former college roommate had just moved to Uganda to become the field director of the IJM office there. He asked if I would like to get connected with him and I said yeah.

I was able to visit Uganda and the IJM field office in July and in late August I submitted my application to become a Church and Community Relation fellow for 2010 in Uganda. Long story short, IJM has offered me the fellowship and I accepted today. I was the underdog and long shot in a lot of ways. I was the one who would be the last one to volunteer to live in a country thousands of miles away and without pay. I was the one who would be the first to recommend someone else more qualified.

Yet I find myself filled with excitement and joy with the prospect of being able to learn more about a continent, a country and a culture steeped in tradition. Long shots do pay off. I’ll share more about what I’ll be doing and how you can help support and pray for me at a later post, but I want to close by encouraging you to pray about your journey with Christ. What sort of adventures is He putting in front of you? It could be completely out of your comfort zone in another country or in your backyard. Maybe it’s time to pray about being a long shot.

By the way, don’t write the Warriors out. One day… one day they will reign victorious as NBA champs.





Building Inauguration

24 09 2009

I had the opportunity to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new teen home for young men at Lirio de Los Valles today. Many high ranking officials from DIF and other government agencies were in attendance. The older children were given a free pass from school so that they could help and be part of the festivities.

Almost five years ago I walked on this piece of land with Mama Rosa and she started painting this picture of wanting a home for the older boys. She also showed me plans for a similar building for young ladies. Back then I thought this was an impossible dream because Lirio did not have the funding or resources to make it happen. But Mama Rosa and Papa Ed began to pray. Through a series of random conversations and providential encounters, Lirio somehow got the funding to build the homes for both the boys and girls. Coincidentally, the land was donated free of charge. Praise God.

The children were great today helping out in the kitchen by cutting fruit and making horchata. The house was given a thorough cleaning Sunday and the new home has four rooms, four bathrooms and two small living areas. It can house sixteen boys and now the main property has more living space for the smaller children. Lirio has never turned away a child because of lack of space and now they have the freedom to continue to grow.

The highlight for me had to be the slideshow. It showed before and after pictures of Lirio over the past fourteen years. As the pictures began to progress, I recognized every child’s face and their success stories. Stories like Martha Castillo who two years ago was adopted by a family in Michigan and was given a chance to succeed in the United States. I saw pictures of graduations from high school and I saw Brenda’s graduation. Brenda was the first child to graduate from college at Lirio and now she is the business administrator for the orphanage. Then I saw Belem’s graduation picture. Belem has a cool story because at the end of next month she will be moving to Boston to attend college. A family in Southwick is paying her tuition and housing her. She starts school in January but is moving up there early to adjust to her new surroundings. I joked with her that she better start getting used to cold weather.

Ed y Rosa were wonderful today sharing with passion and conviction the desire to provide a house and home to any child who is abandoned. The story of Lirio is truly one of miracles. Children have been adopted, others have gotten married, and still others have been given the opportunity to get an education.

IMG_2691

IMG_2704

IMG_2747

Belem (center) will be starting college in Boston in January






Dia de Independencia

21 09 2009

Last Tuesday I was able to take part in my first Mexican Independence festival. September 16, 1810 is the day Mexico celebrated its independence from Spain. On the eve of independence day, thousands of Mexicans flock to their respective cities town square and party. The governor comes out around 11 PM and stands on the balcony of the government building to say a few words and rallies the people: “Viva Mexico”, “Viva La Independencia”, “Viva Chihuahua”. The people shout back “Viva” each time. After that, we all sang some Mexican anthems and then a crazy firework show rang in Independence day. We partied in the town square listening to some Mexican band that sounded like Miami Sound Machine at times and others times like I was watching the movie “Desperado”.

So how did I play my part in these festivities? Many people usually dress up by wearing big sombreros, dawning the country’s patriotic colors of green, red and white, and other fun masks and costumes. I wanted to show my Mexican pride so below is my best dressed costume: Just call me Pedro! (they didn’t have any Nacho Libre masks)

Viva Chihuahua! Viva Mexico!

IMG_0905

IMG_2554

IMG_0907





Presents for Silvia

21 09 2009

A few weeks earlier I introduced you to Silvia in a previous entry. I wanted to first thank everyone who generously gave towards her birthday gift. Thanks to you, Silvia received a complete outfit (shoes, pants, two blouses, a hoodie), a Spanish Bible, cover for her Bible and necklace. The remaining money was given to Papa Ed to use at his discretion.

Silvia was so excited with her presents and she told me this past weekend that she has been wearing her black slip on shoes everyday to school. She also showed off her necklace and Bible to me as she took off for church yesterday. (I apologize for not having pictures but one of the kids accidentally deleted all the photos on Courtney’s camera). However, I was able to snap a shot of Silvia and Courtney the night before her birthday.

In these tough times, I am so thankful that people continue to give sacrificially. You may never meet Silvia or the many children that live at Lirio de los Valles but thank you for not forgetting these children. Below are some of the beautiful faces and smiles that greet me each time I stay there. I’ll try to post more photos soon.

IMG_2524

IMG_2459

IMG_2577





Quinceañera

8 09 2009

The Quinceañera is a coming of age ceremony for latino girls on their 15th birthday. It carries a special religious significance in the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve seen two Quinceañeras, both while in Chihuahua. The parents or grandparents usually present a gift like a cross or Bible along with a blessing from a priest or pastor. The young girl is usually dressed in a beautiful dress and many friends and family come to celebrate and acknowledge her coming of age (Kind of like a bar-mitzah or bat-mitzah in the Jewish culture). After the ceremony, there is typically a reception in the family’s home or at a banquet hall. There is a father-daughter dance, food and more festivities. It’s a pretty big deal.

I want to introduce you to Sylvia. Sylvia is fourteen years old, loves to play soccer and do things most girls do their age like put make-up on, talk about boys and watch High School Musical. I saw Sylvia sitting by herself outside Saturday night at the orphanage. I decided to put my two weeks of Spanish to practice and talk to her as best as I could. I surprised myself by understanding the whole conversation. I asked her why she was sitting by herself and she shrugged her shoulders. I asked if she was feeling okay and she began to tell me that she was sad. She told me that this Saturday is her fifteenth birthday and that she probably won’t have anything special or receive gifts because there’s no one to put it on for her. Normally I would not think too much of it in the States but I know Sylvia’s story. She’s not being spoiled or selfish. Sylvia works very hard at the orphanage cleaning, helping the younger children and going to school. She has three other siblings and their father does not have the means to take care of them. She doesn’t know where her mother is.

Remember that turning fifteen is a big deal in the Latin culture. I asked if she could have anything, what would she want? She told me jeans. She only has one pair of pants and would like another plus a hoodie and some shoes for school. By now you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking. How can we make this possible? Well Court and I are going shopping Friday for Sylvia. Court was able to get some sizes and because I’m not up to date on fashion styles for girls, Court will choose an outfit for her. Would you like to be part of giving a gift to Sylvia? Just shoot me a comment or email and I’ll get you details. Let’s make her Quinceañera a memorable one.

Sylvia and I at the soccer game

Sylvia and I at the soccer game





Who Really Lives Like This?

7 09 2009

One of my favorite chapters in Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love” is titled Who Really Lives Like This? It tells the stories of people who don’t live normal lives. They live sacrificially hoping the way they live will spur on a conversation with someone about a God they love. Some are famous, some are not. If Francis knew the couple I know, he would have included them in that chapter.

I met Ed y Rosa Salo about five years ago. Back then I thought they were nuts. I still do. They are the directors of an orphanage – Lirio de los Valles (Lily of the Valleys) in Aldama, Chihuahua. The orphanage houses about 125 children from 0-18 years old. It’s run like a house and it works for them. They wake the kids up at 4:00 am on school days to pray and have morning devotions. On weekends, it’s 6:00 am. Some of these children have the most horrible stories of neglect and abuse. But through the love of Ed y Rosa, they have learned their abandonment is not their fault. They learn to know a God who loves, cares and protects them. They learn to live sacrificially.

Most of them work very hard – going to school, cleaning the orphanage, cooking meals and fixing things that break (which tends to be daily). Ed bombarded me with a million questions when he found out that I had visited Uganda. The Salos have a heart to want to start a Lirio III in Kenya someday (The first Lirio is in Tijuana). On Saturday he spent the morning praying for Africa. He found me and Court later in the day and we talked for about an hour about what God was placing on his heart and Rosa’s. He then proceeds to hand me 2200 pesos and says please give 1000 pesos to IJM Thailand so that they can continue to fight the injustice of forced prostitution amongst children. The other 1000 pesos went to World Vision’s orphanage in Uganda where they minister to children who were once forced soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army. The final two hundred he wanted me to give to an organization of my choosing. That’s about $200 USD. Now that’s a lot of money for anyone but for someone who doesn’t receive a salary or assistance from the Mexican government, that’s a gold mine.

Ed y Rosa live by faith knowing that God will always provide and that their situation is far better than other people in the world. Who really lives that way? Who would give up a lucrative chance to make money, a name for themselves and a comfortable life. Oh by the way, Ed has his master’s from Harvard and was an Div II All American football player. He hates that I know this and doesn’t like to talk about his pedigrees.

He is no fool if he could choose to give the things he cannot keep to find what he could never lose – Jim Elliot

IMG_2456

Papa Ed showing off his boots





Three Girls – One Common Passion

7 09 2009

I’ve had the privilege of being a pastor to students for over thirteen years. It never ceases to amaze me the creativity, drive and passion students will have if you nurture them and give them the freedom to chase after their dreams. In my short time of ministry in California and Texas, I’ve seen students grow and succeed in life, survive tragedies and ordeals, and most of them continue to follow Christ passionately. My students in Cali are doing great – two are helping lead their college group at their church, one is on staff with Intervarsity, two others are teachers at a Christian school, and one just got back from a month in Kenya. Meanwhile, I have kept in touch with most of my students in Texas. I was close with two classes – the class of 2005 and 2009.

I want to give you a glimpse of the class of 2009. This is a generalization and represents the heart of most of this class.

Britton or Belen:
She loves to swim and teach swimming to her class in Plano. In her spare time, she volunteers in an apartment ministry where most of the residents speak in Spanish. About nine months ago, she decided to defer her first semester of college to immerse herself in Spanish. She never talks about herself, rather she sings the praises of others and would rather spend her weekend at an orphanage playing with children.

Abigail:
Abby needs coffee in the morning or else she doesn’t function. She is fun to be around and laughs at anything. Some say she is the life of the party. Abby has spent the last two summers working at a camp in Wisconsin doing every job imaginable (even the ones no ones wants to do like cleaning bathrooms). In her spare time, she’ll ride horses, volunteer for various causes and roam around Walmart if she’s bored. She’s been dreaming about Chihuahua, Mexico ever since she set foot here in 2005. Oh and she loves her church here and will spend all day playing and laughing with her siblings Uriel (Udi) and Mimi if she could.

Court:
This girl is like her mom. She’ll give everything away to help others. I’ve seen her fight through her diabetes for years and continues to not let it bother her. I’ve seen her grow through seven mission trips and she works harder than most boys. She told me in 9th grade that she was going to live in Chiwas when she graduated high school. Now here she is. Court spends her weekends going to help others. She loves making friends, hanging out at an orphanage, and laughing at herself. Or maybe I always laugh at her?

Most eighteen year old young women would rather be doing something for themselves versus for others. Most would be wanting to accumulate material things, make money and finding the man of their dreams. These girls shatter the typical mold and stereotype when we think of youth. They don’t live for themselves. They live to serve and share their love of Christ with others.

I’m so proud I get to continue to see them grow over the next four months. What a blessing to be able to see young people live in such a way that demands an explanation.