Las Aves

Las Aves is a community only a few minutes away, on the outskirts of town.  Dwellings scattered up on a red earthed hill with a stunning view of the ocean just a few miles to the West and the rolling mountains to the East.  It is a newer settlement and does not yet have power or water access.   The settlement is largely made up of indigenous field workers making about 10 dollars a day.  For some reason when we hear that, as Canadians, we assume that the cost of living must be proportionately low here but it's really not.  Of course there are some things that are cheaper here, but some things are more expensive, and a lot of things are about the same.  A  2 litre jug of milk costs about the same as it does at home.   As you can imagine $10 doesn't go very far especially in households that are often made up of single moms, many children, extended relatives, and elderly grandparents.  

I had planned on this post being a simple set of pictures and a few descriptions...but I sense a bit of a think out loud , ramble coming on.  Bear with me while I try to make sense of some thoughts...or find something else much less annoying to read.  I won't mind if you do.

Much of the time I fluctuate between wanting to leave the mess to it's hopelessness and feeling inspired that there is Hope.  

We've run all the spectrum from being appalled by the poverty  to being appalled by some who call themselves Christians.   Over the past decade we've served as staff at an orphanage/ mission base, we've lead a group of volunteers on a 1 wk mission trip, we've helped build a couple houses, we've passed out donations, we've given out food, we've spent time with the people, and more recently we've come as free agents just to observe, enjoy the culture, and help where we can.  We have witnessed corruption, incompetence, and pride by those who are here to "help" and we have seen beautiful genuine Christlike hearts serving, and giving of themselves...and we've seen everything in between.   Although I have no doubt that the Lord lead us into each of those things for His purpose, we've learned a lot of hard lessons along the way...mostly by our own mistakes.  

In many ways, over the past several decades, it seems the gospel  has been replaced by a cheap, sanitized, image focused, charity coated religion and the promise of Jesus plus...Jesus plus a new house, Jesus plus a better life, Jesus plus a spot in the ladies society, Jesus plus behavior modification rules, Jesus plus an end to all your problems, Jesus plus Gringo funding.  It has essentially inoculated a population against the gritty reality of God's amazing grace and the sufficiency of Christ.  It's really enough to make a person kick the dust from their feet and walk away from the mess....the mess that has never changed and the new mess that has been created.  
It also appears that the decades of unbridled hand outs and well intentioned "help" has in many cases actually hurt and created some real issues.  The real needs get missed while opportunistic greed, and deception,  is unintentionally encouraged.  I hate to even say that because people will use it as an excuse to do nothing about poverty in the world, for fear of being scammed.  We've come to the conclusion that we do what we can to give wisely, and trust the fruit of that to the Lord.  

It seems that much of this trip has been spent wracking my brain, stripping down assumptions, asking questions, repenting of bad attitude and pride, praying for direction, looking for healthy ways to give and support healthy ministry, searching for fruit from several decades of Christian missions,  looking at ministry pitfalls....and going back to the very basics of what I know to be true.  Because honestly, after 13 years of coming here I'm left with more uncertainty and questions than answers.  I don't know what the future holds for us here but I'm sure learning a lot..mostly about how little I actually know about what helps and what doesn't.

So here is my brain storm list of what I know to be foundationally true in life and ministry ...because sometimes I need a reminder.  

 *Our lives, our salvation, everything is for God's glory and our completely satisfied joy in Him.  
*As Christians, we are all ministers of the gospel and called to make disciples...replicating, transforming, growing, fruit bearing followers of Christ.   
*God saves sinners, no one is beyond God's grace.
*As a response to the grace we have been given we are commanded to care for and show compassion to the destitute and the orphaned.  
*We are commanded to love others and die to self.  
*We love because he first loved us.
*I have complete assurance, as a child of God,  that nothing I do or don't do, will cause God to love me more or less than he does right now.   I work from His love not for it.
*Jesus death and resurrection is central, and must remain central...without that we have nothing.
*We have no righteousness of our own, nothing to boast in other than the cross. 
*We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide, comfort, and empower.   
*The message is timeless but our methods must be timely and contextualized.  
*Imposed  legalistic, "take the Bible and add a whole bunch of cultural christian rules/ burdens on top of it" is always devastating, whether done here or in Canada.  
*Reckless handing out of free stuff is detrimental to self sufficiency and ambition in any context.  
*Biblical structure for ministry health is extremely important. 
*Accountability is absolutely essential.
*The Christian life is one of continuing repentance and humility. 
*Everything we need to live abundantly, to love extravagantly, and to show mercy scandalously has already been purchased for us.  
*Obedience is tough. 
*Love is a lifestyle.
*Sin kills. 
*Pride is ugly. 
*Assumptions destroy relationships.
*The human heart is an idol factory.  
*Life is complicated.
*Things are not always what they seem.
*There are NO easy, fix all, practical solutions to things like poverty, child abuse, absent fathers, incest, drug addictions, neglected children, and destroyed families in this sin twisted world...ultimately only Jesus return will make it right. 
*Money does NOT solve any of these things.
*There are no perfect, fail proof, methods to deal with the issues above. 
*God's grace is extravagant 
*God is faithful even when we're not.
*He uses imperfect people to accomplish his perfect purposes. 
*God is good.  

.....and despite all the frustrations, disappointments,  wondering, and questions...

I really do love this place and this people.

It's easier to discuss systems, structures, and ministry models from a safe distance.  It's easier to debate the helpfulness of handouts from a far away location.  

At the end of the day the need is still enormous.
   The view from here makes nothing simple. 
The physical and spiritual poverty is real. 

The fact that a baby has no clothes to protect her from the biting, damp, ocean wind is real. 

The 12 yr old mother with a newborn in her arms, who shares her paternity is real. 

Irreversible disability caused by devastating child abuse is real.  
The shivering children, empty tummies, and dark nights are real.  
The staggering lack of responsible men, loving husbands, and committed fathers is real. 

                              Love that is willing to get it's hands dirty, and enter in, is real. 

The joy of a regenerated and transformed heart  is so real...even in the midst of poverty.  

The ways that being here impacts my children is real. 

...and so we enter in, and get our hands dirty.  If only for a month.

We give out of what we have been given.

“This is your love, O God, not to make much of me, but do whatever must be done so that I waken to the joy of making much of you through all eternity.  How then shall Christ not be my only boast! " John Piper

We visited Las Aves with our friend Amber who has befriended many of the people in this community.  She knows the children by name and writes down their clothing sizes.   She sits in their homes and hears their stories.  She laughs and cries along with them.  
It was fun to tag along and watch her do what she does. 

Thank you to everyone who sewed up quilts, sent along blankets, and donated baby clothes and sweaters.  I can assure you they are being well used in Las Aves.  

My friend Amber has welcomed us so graciously, let us follow them around, learn from them, and mess up their house.   She is a beautiful Jesus loving woman, an imported Canadian wife of a Mexican husband, and a busy mom to 4 children.  They serve in partnership with various ministries down here but mostly they live a lifestyle of love and have a relational ministry.  Her husband, Saul,  works hard encouraging and serving local churches and pastors,  doing outreach into the poorest neighborhoods, helping with house building projects, all while doing construction jobs around town to feed his family...and of course is a great Dad to his 2 bio kids and the 2 teens they've welcomed into their family this year.   I'm inspired by their commitment to stay and serve... even when things are tough and they don't know where grocery money will come from,  when construction work is scarce and only pays $30/day,  when running water is unpredictable,  when laundry comes off the line dirtier than it went on.... they persevere.

I'm amazed at their overflow of love that continues even when it's taken for granted, or exploited, or misunderstood, or rejected...I guess that's what happens when you love like Christ.. after all, look what we do with God's grace. The exact same things.  Watching them pick up their cross and carry it with both passion and joy is humbling and inspiring.  

You can witness their unfolding story here.http://becauseloveisalifestyle.com/..and if you feel so inspired and led send them an encouraging message , pray for them, or send them a gift.  It will be very well stewarded and very much appreciated.  After seeing their heart, watching their passion, witnessing how generously they live with what little they have,  and hearing about their vision for the future...I know that God is doing a work in and through this family.  I'm excited to see what God has planned for them here.   It has been a privilege to spend time with them. 

“If Christ is an all satisfying  treasure and promises to provide all our needs, even through famine and nakedness, then to live as though we had all the same values as the world would betray him. “  

It's been a lot of fun to hang out with another mom, and being that she's an adoptive mom to older children ..I'm gleaning all I can from her experience.

“If we do not embrace the path of joy-laden, painful love, we will waste our lives.  If we do not learn with Paul the Christ-exalting paradoxes of life, we will squander our days pursuing bubbles that burst.  He lived “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10).  The Calvary road is costly and painful, but it is not joyless.”  John Piper (Don't Waste your life)

Soli Deo Gloria,


Adoption Obsessive Disorder

Spending this past month in Mexico, filling our home and our days with friends and kids we love, soaking up sunshine, and consuming copious amounts of Mexican food has been a great distraction from my continuing AOD (Adoption Obsessive Disorder, a rather pathetic debilitating condition that afflicts every waiting adoptive parent).   It has been a good way to pass the time and focus our attention away from our “LOA” (our final approval that will indicate imminent travel) wait time.  
Despite the pleasant distractions, I still find my mind and heart occasionally wandering back to the child that isn’t with us on this trip.   It feels like someone is missing from our excursions and outings.  Someone else should be curled up on the couch reading stories with us, someone else should be discovering sea shells at the beach and playing out on the sunny patio.  I am determined (mostly successfully) to live in the moment and enjoy each day,  but as we near the end of our Baja trip I am finding myself looking ahead to our next big adventure….our trip to China where we will finally, after 10 months of praying, waiting, hoping, and loving from a far,  hold our new son in our arms and bring him home. 

I’m also itching to check our mail and see if the final document from the Judge is there waiting for us.  All that remained for Cece’s adoption was for all the paperwork to go to a judge and have him sign it as forever final.  There was nothing left for us to do.   We’re hoping that at some point during our time away she became our official forever daughter.   I guess that beats compulsively stalking the mail man looking for it every day. 
Although we are close to finalizing both adoptions our sitting at home fretting isn’t going to speed anything up so I’m glad that we had this chance to come and take our minds off ourselves for a while.   Although it hasn’t entirely taken my mind off of a certain little boy living in a far away land.   Somehow being here feels even further away and today I’m missing him. 

I’m glad we have things to look forward to once we return to Canada.  With Christmas coming up and 2 adoptions to finalize I’m not quite as bummed out about driving back up to the land of snow and ice as I usually am.  It’s never fun to say goodbye to our friends and life here though.  Although I'm quite happy to say goodbye to the pulgas.  

As American Thanksgiving came up on the calender I was reminded how filled up with the blessings of abundant life and love I am.   I am so incredibly thankful.  I am so blessed by our merciful God, who continues accomplish his perfect will through painfully imperfect people.  


Viva Mexico!

Days like today is why we love Mexico.  
It's so rich in color and culture.

Our little town celebrated Revolution Day by blocking off the main Baja highway for a parade.  The parade ended in the Park that was full of food stands that had been set up for the occasion.  

These colorful egg shells filled with confetti and flour where also being sold.    The purpose of these is to smash them over your friend's heads.  We bought a bag full at the end of the day but unfortunately my camera's battery ran dead before I could take a picture of my confetti covered kids.  

It was a beautiful sunny morning.   We found a spot on the highway median and watched the show with some friends.

Miss Cece and our amigo Kayden. 

A spectacular show it was.
We watched kids from various schools do summersaults on a crib mattress, jump through hoops, dance, march, and wave pom poms, all done with patriotic flair.

Cece and her amiga Brielle wished they could be a part of the show.  I kind of suspect they were...at least for us. 

Once we returned to the park the real fun began.
Comida Mexicana!

We started with tamales, then chased those down with greasy empanadas, followed by a variety of sweet things. 
Bunuelos are my favorite!...although churros are a close runner up.  What's a girl to do when faced with that kind of decision?  
Eat both...I can always wear my sweat pants home if I outgrow my blue jeans.  

With all that food cooking, even an intensely crowded park smelled GOOD.  

Clowns are still creepy, even in Mexico. 

Olives with fresh squeezed lime and your choice of Chamoy or Chili sauce.
And if you're still not stuffed there's always cobs of corn on a stick. 

It was so much fun to be a part of the festivities.  I love how, although I'm sure we stand out as a rather pale minority, we're just treated like one of the crowd.  
We really do love it here. 

Viva Mexico!


Another play day

Yesterday we had the kids over for a play day again.   Nathanael went and picked them up at lunch time while I prepared chorizo and eggs, refried beans, hot off the grill tortillas, cheddar cheese brought from the U.S, and a variety of local produce and spicy condiments.  I can't help but love these kids with food.  A full belly and a tasty meal with friends crosses all languages and cultures.   It is especially satisfying knowing that these kids typical diet is extremely basic and often lacking in fresh fruit and vegi's.   It's fun to treat them too some "rico" extras like avocados, cheese, and cookies.  

Every bit of it was gone in no time. 

We pulled out the toys and "plasticina".

The big kids worked hard on a puzzle (games and puzzles happened to come with the house)

Silas was sweet with Gabriella.  Little girls bring out a soft and gentle side to this boy, he enjoys his big brother role...even when it's not his own little sister.

Gabriella sure came out of her shell on the second visit.  She has a very outgoing, confident, funny personality.  Such a difference from older sister Louisa who is still timid and quiet. 

She chattered all afternoon...she has quite a vocabulary.

Part way through the afternoon when things started to get a bit nutty we turned on Shrek 3.

Movie time is good for snuggles too.

Louisa playing with some of our Spanish flash cards.  I sat and did a numbers 1-12 puzzle thing (matching numbers to the amount of objects) with Ramiro...oh boy.  I suspect he's about 7 or 8 yrs (they don't seem to know their ages or birthdays) old and he has no concept of counting and number symbols.  I wish I could have him over here everyday and teach him some basics! (The home school mom in me was all over that)  In just the time spent at the table he could get most of the numbers from 1-10 right and was drawing them on a |Doodle Pro magnetic board (I'm sure his cooperation was due to the novelty of the tablet he was using).  I wish he would go to school.  He tried it for a few days and said it was boring and hasn't gone back.  Seriously what boy that age would go to school entirely on their own ambition?  Especially if they are going to a poor rancho school...and are already feeling behind the other kids.  It's frustrating.  
I have resolved myself to the reality that I have no way to get these kids in school (considering we're only here for a month of the year)....but I wish I could think of some way to motivate him....and a couple others.   I've come to realize that my "job" as "Tia" (Auntie) to them isn't to fix them, make decisions for them, or mother them...it's to provide encouragement, unconditional love, a bit of fun and respite from the tough things of life...and a little bit of spoiling.

Alvaro is still in school and appears to be the golden boy of the family...the one Mama is putting her hopes in.  It kind of makes sense because he is intelligent, ambitious, and responsible.   As long as one is able to get an education and a decent job someday she may not be destitute when she is too old to work in the fields.   It will be a hard climb for him though.  There are so many practical, social, cultural and financial obstacles ahead of him.  The native Triqui (migrated north from Oaxaca) culture is quite a bit different than much of mainstream Mexican culture.  Even here in Mexico there is an underlying unspoken class system laced with bigotry.  ugg...I wish the others could at least go for long enough to gain literacy which would open up so much more of the world to them. 

It appeared that Alvaro was still wearing the uniform he got 3 years ago when he started school, so it was a huge privilege to be able to encourage his efforts with a new uniform.  Tio went out and bought it this morning took it to him  (it's a holiday here).  He was so grateful and excited over something as simple as a $30 uniform.  Nathanael got lot's of hugs and "muchas gracias Tio" over and over.  

Even though I'm a little disappointed that Minerva has stopped her schooling only 3 years in, at the age of 16...I can't help but feel really proud of her too.   Unlike most drop outs at home, she quit school to provide for her family...something she's been itching to do for a while now.  She says she would rather work than go to school.  I think part of it is that she doesn't feel like a school age kid anymore, in her culture she is a woman (and of marrying age as her mother has expressed).  She wants to join the world of adults....while I can't help but feel sad that she missed much of just being a child.  Kids grow up quickly here, many don't get to be kids at all.     9 year old Carmela has been the main childcare provider alone at home for the past 3 years.  It's a bit mind boggling when you see 6 and 7 year old's mothering toddlers and babies.  I can't change much of the way circumstances and culture is...but it is fun to give them a day of just being kids again.  

We finished off our play day with pancake mix pancakes, yogurt, and a big bowl of fresh papaya and pineapple.  Yup...loving them with food again.