Changing Their Currency

Well so much has happened since the last time I posted but I have had a lot of difficulty thinking about how to write about it all. The first problem is that I want to respect the privacy of all these guys and as their trust in me grows and they share so much more with me, I feel like I can’t in good conscience publish the stories and experiences that are most affecting me. The second problem is that the majority of them are learning English and can understand my posts now! My strategy is to write more generally about themes and patterns I am seeing but it still takes some fancy footwork.

The first theme I want to talk about is this idea of changing people’s currency. Many of the guys I talk to come from childhoods that have for various reasons taken them out of the traditional family situation. They have, from a young age, had to fend for themselves in sad or difficult moments without the comforting hugs and words from a mother or father. Those moments when they weren’t alone, sometimes they were surrounded by other youths who teased them and poured salt in their wounds. Most gained a hatred of showing weakness and tears and built up a wall around their hearts. Some have seen and/or done terrible things, which has further hardened their shell. They see their worth in being strong, furious, immovable and fearless. Those that consume drugs or alcohol, see their worth also in having a high tolerance, always being ready to party and getting away with being altered in inappropriate situations. Their social groups reinforce these characteristics and values and most people who challenge their convictions are held at an arms length or, more often than not, written off and kicked out of their lives. Over the past 2 years, I have slowly but surely gained more trust with definite periods of the silent treatment due to resentment or embarrassment. I am accused of being too direct with my comments, out of touch and straight up crazy.

My fundamental goal is to show these boys that they can live sincere lives that they are actually proud of. They don’t have to keep representing a particular lifestyle or code. They can fearlessly learn their individual strengths and weaknesses and start making tangible decisions that will change they way they feel about themselves and about other people. I repeat that refrain a lot, “you can feel different, it’s possible” They believe they were born with a tendency towards resentment, anger and impatience. They think their worth is in owning those traits and being the hardest and most “street” person. I want them to start converting their currency. Don’t celebrate the fact that people fear you, celebrate if people respect you. Don’t celebrate the fact that you have a high tolerance for drugs and alcohol, celebrate if you have a life you don’t need to escape from. Don’t celebrate the fact that you are all alone, celebrate if you have a relationship with God and a list of people you can call on for support. But its scary to start looking for their self-worth in other things. The hole they are in starts feeling more like a cozy cave that keeps them safe. They definitely suffer in their cave but it’s a familiar suffering and venturing outside of that familiarity is scary and unsettling. Its like when you travel or move to a new country. You know the new currency has worth where you are living but it’s hard to conceptualize it at first. You start by translating everything back to your old currency and constantly comparing but over time your new currency starts to take on real value and you can finally live fully within your new reality. That conversion is what I am working towards.

Thankfully I am learning the ropes here more and have a great Church that I love and the boys aren’t scared off by. I have also found some great Honduran-run rehab facilities that are doing awesome work and are able to take on some of my guys once there are ready to accept help. Currently I have 3 in rehab (Proyecto Victoria) which means $450/month for 6 months or a total of $2,700 out of my pocket and I have one who is in need of some professional therapy in the home he is living in (Mision Rescate) which will be a one-time cost of $900 for 30 sessions.

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If you are interested in helping please consider making a donation towards these boys futures. I wish I could in good conscience share videos of some of our conversations with all of you. It would blow you away how sweet and tender-hearted these young men are but they are imprisoned in a life-style that they have cultivated over their short 18-23 years of life. Lets set them free so that they can fulfill their destiny to be men of God, citizens of the world and integral members of a strong family. The first $900 raised will go towards the therapy sessions with an addiction specialist and beyond that ($901-3,600) will go towards the monthly rehab costs (ie my credit card debt).

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Living at the End of my Rope

The holiday season is winding down and while its something that I was looking forward to, I did so with trepidation. I think for most people, the holidays can spell some stress. Lots of preparation, travel, over-eating, high expectations and family can turn our routines a bit upside down. But especially for addicts and loved-ones of addicts, this is a particularly nail-biting time of year. Unfortunately I have recently lost a few battles and found myself saying more than a few times, “I’m at the end of my rope!” Now I think when people hear that from me, they assume I’m saying I want to quit or move away but I think I mean it slightly differently. I see myself as pulling these guys along through their recovery. So long as they are clean and therefore moving forward, then the rope is slack and things are relaxed. There is flexibility and compromise. When they fall off the wagon and consume then the rope becomes taut and I am the only one pulling. They are even at times pulling against me. Their drug brains are telling them lies and convincing them that they were better off before recovery and that they don’t need to follow any programs to be happy. They put me in a difficult situation because any help I provide to them is corrupted into aiding their drug use. They force me to lose my mind with paranoia and make ultimatums, withholding things that I want them to have in exchange for their show of effort. I just keep telling them that I may have no trust in them but I still have hope.

2016 is going to involve more focus on myself because I have gone a little overboard as far as living for other people. I am making time for the gym, for being more social and for having alone time. I am trying to make some boundaries so that I don’t lose myself but I do not feel like I should give up. There are moments of struggle but always a net gain. I look back to the beginning of 2015 and I can see so much progress. At times I may be at the end of my rope but thats the best position to pull from. These guys need a cheerleader and I can’t reverse 17 years of abuse and neglect in 1, 2 or even 10 years but the quality of life keeps improving. I will seek more balance for myself but I am embracing life at the end of the rope.

Safe House – 2nd Month Update

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At the English Class diploma ceremony

So I wrote this over Thanksgiving break and then completely dropped the ball on posting it. But better late than never, right?

We are winding down month #2 at the Safe House and the tag line is: things are going smoothly with room to improve. Eduardo still hasn’t moved in because they are still house sitting but the owner could send word any day now of her impending return. Awner and Wilmer now have my lightly used fridge and Jilli’s lightly used stove….we were thankful for the excuses to [have to] get newer appliances. Sadly these cooking utensils are not being used as much as I would like because of budget constraints. Awner’s job changed their policy to only hire people who could work weekends and that didn’t work with his high school schedule but now that his classes have ended he is reinvigorating his search at some of the bigger companies that require a high school diploma. Wilmer has been bouncing around a bit as he gets some work and world experience. He has started a sought-after perfume-making business and I am told by people-in-the-know that his scents are dead ringers of expensive brands.

While I struggle sometimes with how much to get involved and how much to let them learn through experience, I am ever grateful for the safe roof over their heads and beds to sleep in. They show up at my house once and awhile when the boredom and hunger have gotten to be too much but I know they are making every effort to figure things out on their own. While its important to help people be independent I think we can be obsessed with the concept and forget that our success is based on the fact that people have been very generous with us. I find myself trained to hesitate before giving and people even tell me, “oh you’ve done enough. They need to learn how to provide for themselves.” But especially this Thanksgiving week, when I am surrounded by loving family and an abundance of support and food, I think, it’s so wonderful to feel taken care of. What a blessing to know that my parents and siblings care that I am happy and they look for ways to express to me their love through conversations, actions and gifts.

So thank you to those who donate to the Safe House each month and who make these boys feel seen. They may not know each of you personally but they feel your recognition of them as someone deserving of a chance, of care and of a safety net. I am so lucky to get to be the face that they see because they are quick to be thankful and shameless in their appreciation. So you all should know that I was [we were] told via Facebook that Eduardo doesn’t know how to ever repay this opportunity. I was [we were] thanked publicly at an event, IN ENGLISH, by Awner who says he doesn’t even know how to say how thankful he is. And lastly I was given a lovely perfume by Wilmer and told that he feels at a loss for how to express his gratitude. If you want to share in the perfume you’ll have to come visit but otherwise I do want you to feel the sincerity of their words and gratitude because while they say it to my face, it’s meant for all of you who support them. So enjoy your holidays and know that there is some thanks streaming your way through the cosmos from Honduras.

The Safe House – Month 1 Update

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left to right: Eduardo, Gabriel, Wilmer and Awner

A HUGE THANK YOU to those who were able to sign up for recurring monthly donations and those that were able to support with one-time donations.

Awner and Wilmer have been living in the house for almost a month now. They quickly started looking for work and within the first week were both gainfully employed. This fact should be celebrated because unemployment is, on the best of days, 50% in this country. All the donors for the Safe House actually play a big role in the fact that they were able to get jobs. Each job pays only around $200/month, which is not very much money, even in Honduras. Minimum wage jobs are actually the goal for most people here because that means benefit packages and a salary of $350/month. On their own, these young men would have to live in communities farther away which would mean more money spent on transportation and limits to the hours they can work because the buses stop running after 6/7pm. The location of the house and the fact that it’s rent free gives them the freedom to work whatever jobs they can find and to start buying some of the basics that one needs…like clothes, furniture, appliances. Right now they have an electric stovetop that I’m loaning them but I’m working on getting them a fridge and gas stovetop (the electric one is old and shocks people sometimes = unsafe house). Everything else they will have to provide. While poverty and trying circumstances are not foreign here in Honduras, most people have their family that they live and share expenses with. When you are short one month your family helps you out and vice versa. These guys are were living without that safety net.

Now thanks to the Safe House, they have an opportunity to ease into the job market, get work experience, network and, you know, eat food.

Both Awner and Wilmer are studying English and will continue their formal education in 2016. Anwer is headed to university and Wilmer will be starting 7th grade. Eduardo and his family are still house sitting nearby while his wife’s grandmother is out of town for an operation. Once she returns then they will move in. He continues working with me and will start studying to be a mechanic in 2016.

The super duper exciting news is that Gabriel actually got accepted into the program at the local Crossfit gym and so is living and training with them in a pilot transition home project for at-risk youth. This is a huge opportunity for Gabriel as this program is also connected to a NGO called 147 Million Orphans. With his charm, responsibility and all around good attitude, he is quickly becoming the right-hand man to the owner of the gym and founder of this awesome project. I told Gabriel to keep his brothers from Proniño in mind as this great program grows and they accept more muchachos.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to those who have been able to help so far. Currently the monthly donations are at $142/month and I am paying $200/month in rent as well and buying the fridge and perhaps the stove…I’ve got a possible donor for the second one. If anyone else is able to help me out, it’s greatly appreciated!

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**Please check the box to make it a recurring (monthly) donation. You can pay with your PayPal account or use the link on the bottom left to pay just with a credit card.

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Urgent New Project – The Safe House

Hi all 5 of you who read my blog! I have an urgent need for some monetary support but for what could be a very exciting project. Through coincidence or divine design there are 4 young men who grew up in Proniño who are all struggling in their own way but on good paths. The short of it is that I want to rent a house where they can live together while they stabilize their lives and pursue some opportunities that have become available to them. I will need an estimated $200/month to cover the rent and electricity bill. I’m still looking for a house so the exact cost may be slightly more or slightly less. The need is immediate and I am not putting an end date but I am hoping for monthly donors who would like to commit to 1 year of giving. Of course photos and updates will be provided to keep people aware of what’s going on. At this point I haven’t told this idea to my guys because I don’t want to get their hopes up. That’s why I can’t post their pictures right now because I don’t have their permission. If the house gets funded then I will require ask their permission to post cute photos.

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Rundown of the situation:

Two of these young men have been out of the foundation for years now and are both living in physically and psychologically dangerous situations. This danger is directly due to drug abuse by other people where they are staying. They want to get away from this drug use but are dependent on these other people to have a place to live. They both have the most inspirational attitudes and are eager to use their bad situations to fuel their hard work. One already works with me, I pay him to apprentice at a mechanic shop and next year he will start formal studies to be an auto mechanic. He has been studying English for about a month. The other works odd labor jobs but is hopefully getting an opportunity to clean at the English school in exchange for some money and free English classes.

The other two are currently in Proniño but are being shown the door on Sept 30th. It is a financial decision on the part of the foundation, not a decision based on behavior. They are that magical age of 18 where you somehow know how to take care of yourself all of the sudden. One of the guys has a scholarship to finish high school this year but if he can’t find a place to live here in Progreso then he will have to move back to Yoro to live with his estranged family, which is very far away. He will have to give up his studies when he only has 3 months left to go! (their academic year is February-November) He is also one of the top English students and his teachers think that with a few more months of classes they could help him get a job at a call center, which could be a life altering opportunity. My last guy has one more year after this to finish high school and has the possibility of joining up with another NGO here in Progreso but needs time for them to get to know him and see if he will be part of their program. If he won’t then he’ll have to look for a regular job. He is studying English as well but only has about 2 months under his belt so needs more time before he could apply to any call center jobs.

Basically all are on the right path but need more time and more security in order to reach their potential. This will not be an institution but rather a safe house for them to live in a drug and violence-free environment. The good news is they all grew up together and while their lives diverged they have an opportunity to come together again and support each other. Also one of the guys has a wife and a 6 month old. As Jilli pointed out, this will be adorable with mommy, daddy, baby and the 3 tios (uncles). Please direct any pitches for a reality show to me.

The average American can spend $10-20 in 1 day on going out to eat, so how about just $1/day to help these young men in their fight to break the cycle of poverty. Please consider giving a recurring monthly donation of $30 or more, using the button below.

Donors will be kept up-to-date on the progress within the house and hopefully everyone will be getting jobs and able to pay rent one day but in the meantime I am imagining dedicating at least a year to paying this house. Lets take them through 2017!
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**Please check the box to make it a recurring (monthly) donation. You can pay with your PayPal account or use the link on the bottom left to pay just with a credit card.

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If God Wants – Part 2

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As discussed in Part 1: My faith tends more towards the Disney movie variety. I find myself believing that because I do what God wants, I will be blessed by Him. My faith is truly blind, but blind in the fact that its misguided. My faith seems to be centered on my acts, my faithfulness and my worth. The faith of the poor that I am encountering, and need to be learning from, is a God-centered faith based on His acts, His faithfulness and His worth. We may not understand why things happen but I am working on believing that whatever happens is part of God’s plan.

Now for a big BUT to this whole line of thinking. While I need to work on my God-centered faith, I can’t lose my sense of responsibility, my role in the celestial plan that I can’t always understand. Since moving to Honduras I have felt myself pushing back against a strong stream of need. I go through cycles of wanting to help in every aspect and then thinking that it’s all too much and I should just work and pay my own bills. As I inevitably hear more stories and struggles and needs my first reaction is usually to go into self-pity spirals. I calculate in my mind all that I do, how little time and money I have and then I, at times, even say these things out loud…to impoverished or abandoned teens. I actually expect them to understand my woes of being someone with so many resources that people think I should help them. I have these adult versions of temper tantrums where I want to pout and feel sorry for myself. It’s not something I’m proud of, but if I’m being honest, this is my initial reaction. Once I leave the situation and start reflecting on the need, I often start to hear these ideas trickling into my head. As the pouting wanes I find myself seeing ways that I could actually help. Either because I can in fact afford it or I could ask other people who might be interested in helping (warning, this is foreshadowing). While always mixed with fear, I start to feel like maybe I actually could do something.

I’ve been trying to think lately, what is this internal battle? What inspires this inevitable feeling of responsibility to take action. Its not that I am selfless because everything in my being is screaming, ”run away” and “don’t take on the responsibility”. So where is that other voice, that pushing, coming from? And I have started this think, “what if this is what God wants”. They say that God will provide for you and God will put people in your path to help you but sometimes we forget that we are not always on the receiving end of the help. While I believe that God has the power to make anything happen, I believe that more often than not he uses us as his tools. God works within the context of the world we live in. Just as we need to be open to the grace and mercy of God in our lives, we need to be open to when God is using us to be conduits of his grace and mercy to others. That pain you feel in your heart, that feeling that you just can’t ignore when you really want to runaway from any more responsibility, I think that is God talking to you.

Profe Zuniga giving a pep talk

Here’s my latest example. The 2 guys that work with me, ie who make money that I pay them out-of-pocket, both want to play in this soccer league. I think playing sports is a very positive part of life and it’s something I encouraged them to get into. I anticipated already the fact that this was going to cost money so I went in all huffy saying I would provide transport to the practices because it’s on my way but that any other costs for equipment or collaborations have to come from them. I mean what are they making money for anyways? What I forgot about is all the team mates who don’t work for me. They need water, they need cleats, they need transport at night. My first thought? Oh no, what did I get myself into!? I want to rescind my offer to drive them to practice. I want to run away from this group of very nice, very deserving kids who are just trying to get involved in something positive. Why me? Why do I have to be responsible for them? …But then the little ideas start to trickle in. Maybe there are people who, if they knew about this cool soccer league, would want to help. Maybe other people will be as impressed as I am with Professor Zuniga a 69 year old man, who on his own is building this team and coaching these young men. He has way less resources than me but understands the importance of sports in a young person’s life. He is the one who has invited this rag-tag team of at-risk youths. He is the one who brings all the equipment on his back because he drives a motorcycle instead of a pick-up truck. He’s the one who makes minimum wage and is paying the federation fees and trying to look for how to afford the team’s uniforms. And when he gets up the courage and puts aside his pride and to ask me for help, who I am to start complaining. Because this time when Zuniga tells me “oh we’ll get the uniforms somehow…si Dios quiere” he’s looking straight at me.

Should I do something? Should you do something? Is this what God wants?

Would you like to donate to help Zuniga’s soccer team? If you feel a push or pull…or just like helping kids play soccer, then click the link below and make a contribution. Anything paid through this link will 100% go towards the soccer league. First priority will be the team uniforms and soccer balls, then cleats, then bus fare to away games outside the city. The more we raise, the more this “bad news bears” team can do.

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If God Wants – Part 1

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This is part 1 of a 2-part blog because we live in a world of 2-second attention spans.

There is a saying here in Honduras that doesn’t seems to sit right with me, Si Dios quiere. It’s supposed to mean “God willing” which sounds omnipotent and powerful but it translates directly to “if God wants” which sounds like a sniveling jerk (sorry God). The first translation sounds like God has a pre-determined plan for what is best. And the second sounds like you threw up a prayer to God and he said, “no, I don’t feel like it, I don’t want to”. I think my biggest problem is that this saying is used in the most mundane situations. It’s not just for the big guns like, “God willing, my cancer will be in remission”. Hondurans use this saying for everything. I’ll say, “see you tomorrow” and they respond “God willing” but to me it sounds like “If God wants”  …what? The contrary always comes to my mind and I ask, “why would God not want me to see you tomorrow!?”

Of course for the majority of people that I know here in Honduras, this response is due to their past experiences in life. Due to poverty and lack of opportunities, they have to live a faith that is hard for me to understand. They have survived and endured so much hardship that they don’t always look on the bright side. In the US we generally have a culture of blind faith, or better said, blind positivity. Miracles will happen because I am a good person, the under dog will win because they have the right attitude, I will be successful because I work hard and want it badly enough. Notice that all that success is based on the fact that the individual is deserving of it or earning it. Here in Honduras people don’t tend to have this positivity. I always tease people because if you ask them if they are going to win their soccer game or pass their test or get the job, they don’t say a resounding “yes” with the blind faith of an American, they say “I don’t know” or in most cases “si Dios quiere”. I always laugh and tell them they need to believe in themselves more. I still think a positive attitude is important but after years of reflecting on this aspect of the Honduran culture I am coming around to the fact that they may have it right. They don’t have a blind faith in oneself but rather a God-centered faith even when there is no explanation as to why things happen.

As Christians we are taught that if you accept Jesus as your savior and have faith in God then your life will improve. I think we wrongly relate these improvements to increased wealth and prosperity. But what happens with all these very poor people suffering in abject poverty? Are they not being faithful enough? Is their Christianity somehow insufficient? For arguments sake, lets pretend like that line of thinking is misguided, superior, egotistical…wrong. Lets agree that its possible that there are truly faithful Christians who suffer. If we read the Bible then we see that many faithful people have suffered greatly, principally one Jesus Christ. Maybe instead of looking at prosperity for the test of ones faithfulness, we should look at the level of one’s faithfulness in the face of suffering. People who’s lives are so unstable that at their core they are unsure if they will be able to see me tomorrow but who believe that whether or not they see me, it was God’s plan and God’s will.

I myself honestly find that a very difficult faith to have. My faith tends more towards the Disney movie variety. I find myself believing that because I do what God wants, I will be blessed by Him. My faith is truly blind, but blind in the fact that its misguided. My faith seems to be centered on my acts, my faithfulness and my worth. The faith of the impoverished that I am encountering, and need to be learning from, is a God-centered faith based on His acts, His faithfulness and His worth. We may not understand why things happen but I am working on believing that whatever happens is part of God’s plan.

Click here to continue reading Part 2.

Redemption

Forgiveness or absolution for past sins or errors and protection from damnation and disgrace, eternal or temporary, generally through sacrifice

Creating paths to redemption has been a concept that’s been on my mind a lot lately. The differences between redemption and forgiveness or redemption and punishment are important. Forgiveness and punishment on their own can enable bad decisions or actions to continue. Redemption, however, acknowledges that damage was done but allows for renewal and growth. Redemption has the power to break vicious cycles and inspire change.

So much of our world view and systems focus on consequences or sacrifice: if you are late then there is a fee, if you commit a crime then you should serve time. While I am not opposed to consequences, I am opposed to condemnation without any room for redemption. A fee or fine seems like an innocuous enough punishment but there are instances when a ticket or fine is an example of condemnation without redemption. John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” explains this phenomena perfectly:

If you don’t have time to watch the video, the gist is that a speeding ticket should be punishment only for speeding but for some people it becomes a much larger problem that results in bankruptcy or jail. Looking at the definition of redemption, this is a sacrifice that can absolve the crime but for some populations it does not protect from damnation and disgrace. Therefore part of the equation is missing and redemption isn’t possible.

On the other side of the coin we have forgiveness. This can be a beautiful, loving act but I believe that forgiveness without consequences can enable bad decisions and actions to continue. People in a position of privilege who can escape consequences with their money or connections are being forgiven without sacrifice and this does not result in the changes that are necessary. Forgiveness without consequences allows the systemic privilege gap and vicious cycle to continue.

Here in Honduras I have come to know people who are earning their consequences, but I oppose the fact that those consequences are being applied without forgiveness or protection from disgrace. My goal in speaking with someone who is struggling with addiction or feels stuck in a life of crime is to look for paths to redemption. How can they be held responsible for their actions but in a way that allows them to learn, grow and move on. In the US right now we are seeing so much conflict over race and policing. Unarmed people are being gunned down and some respond saying that they were criminals with records but we have to remember that first and foremost they are people with families, friends and histories. And so are the Police Officers. They are not simply racists with murderous rage, they are people making judgement calls and defending what they think is right in the moment. We have to stop polarizing the discourse and demanding only punishment. We must look for the pathways to redemption.

I want to leave you with an interesting example out of Finland: In Finland’s ‘open prisons,’ inmates have the keys.

“There aren’t any gates, locks or uniforms — this is an open prison. Everyone at the Kerava open prison applied to be here. They earn about $8 an hour, have cell phones, do their grocery shopping in town and get three days of vacation every couple of months. They pay rent to the prison; they choose to study for a university degree in town instead of working, they get a subsidy for it; they sometimes take supervised camping and fishing trips.”

There are many people who will balk at this idea. Criminals deserve to be punished for their wrong-doing! They shouldn’t have nice things and perks as rewards for committing crimes! But that way of thinking perpetuates a vicious cycle that people who commit crimes get stuck in. Regardless of the reason for why someone commits a crime, if we want to see the crime rates go down and healing begin, we need to always find paths to redemption. “About a third of Finnish inmates are housed in open prison, and Finland’s Criminal Sanctions Agency says inmates who go through open prisons are less likely to be arrested again. The reoffending rate drops almost 20 percent.”

So the next time someone wrongs you or you hear about a horrific tragedy perpetuated by another human being please, get angry, get sad, rant, cry and scream but then find the space to take a breath, evaluate the situation and look for pathways to redemption. It is important for the accused, the accuser and it is essential for our society.

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.” – Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King. Jr.

You’d be Surprised. – Thanks to The Very Worst Missionary

This is reposted from a someone worth following: Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary. I copied the text but you can click the link to go to her page and see her other great articles.

You’d be Surprised..

The setting sun cast an orangey-pink glow against the dirt-bag SurfWind motel. A couple of hookers and a drunk lingered by the corner of the building and a guy leaned against the flag pole with a cigarette.

Enjoying a happy ending smoke, I suppose.

I joked, “If herpes was a color, it’d be that orangey-pink.” But my friend stayed quiet in the drivers seat. Stupidly, I kept talking, sharing my disgust for the scene outside my window, “You’ve gotta be some kind of desperate to pay for sex. Who does that, anyway? What kind of guy uses a hooker?!”

“You’d be surprised…” is all he said.

And I assumed he was talking about the mayor of San Francisco…or Kevin Bacon, or something.

But that moment in front of the SurfWind motel came back in a flood of understanding a year later, when my friend said he needed to talk and I found him lying on the floor, just a pile of tears and snot, and I heard his confession through his sobs. As it turns out, he was that guy, the kind that uses hookers.

He was married, he was a pastor, and he was right – I was surprised.

Later, I sat talking with a group of women while we sipped coffee and nibbled the ends of crispy cookies like emaciated wannabe super-models. One of the women started a little rant against abortion, and the other ladies clucked and nodded in approval. “Who does that?” she raged, “What kind of person murders an unborn child?”

I glanced from one face to the next, hopeful for signs of Grace and Mercy, when I finally settled on the president of the PTA sitting across from me, her brown eyes rimmed with tears. Very quietly, as if whispering a secret to her steaming latte, she answered, “You’d be surprised.” But the chatter of the soccer moms had already moved on to important things, like who saw the last episode of “The Bachelor”.

I sat in that circle of women, buzzing from the caffeine high and thinking on my own dark secrets; the guys I’d slept with, the drugs I’d played with, the teen pregnancy. I was thinking about how, even now, as a grown woman, a married mother of 3, I was still broken, still doing awful things that I was ashamed of. And then I ate the rest of my cookie, plus two more, because I knew that as soon as I got home I would stick my finger down my throat and barf them up.

As I reached for a fourth, one of the ladies leaned over and put her hand on my knee, saying, “Jamie, how is the whole missionary thing going? That’s just so exciting! I mean, who does that?! Who moves halfway across the world to serve Jesus?!”

And I had to smile. “Oh, you’d be surprised…”

…. …. ….

Do you really want to know who does “that?” Because, honestly, you’d be surprised.

We are the People of the Second Chance. We are anorexic missionaries, pastors with porn habits, and PTA Mom’s with shady pasts. We are “that guy”. Wholly broken and fully redeemed, we no longer wonder “Who does that?!” because we already know the answer.

That kind of person…. needs a Second Chance.

I need a second chance.

And maybe you do, too.

Who is Deserving of Help??

I have received this question in the past: “How do you decide who to help?” and I realized I didn’t have a smart answer.

First of all I think a dangerous way of thinking about “helping people” is this idea that you are changing their lives or somehow making an all-encompassing difference. I try to always look at it much more logically: someone can’t afford to study, I will help them study. That doesn’t mean that they will be successful, it doesn’t mean that they will be nice, it doesn’t mean that they will be anything other than someone who has completed another year of study. Of course I want success and happiness for everyone that I know but I can’t do that for them, I can only help in finite areas of their lives. So often people will say that they “tried to help” someone but then “she got pregnant” or “he kept using drugs” or “he stole” or “she never looked for work” or ….many other mistakes/errors/self-sabotage. You can’t think that sponsoring someone’s education or paying some of their bills is going to make their life perfect. You are only taking care of one problem and while I would argue it’s worth-while you won’t feel like it is if you try to tie it to other areas of his/her life.

Second of all I am not a foundation or institution with a mission or vision. I am currently enjoying the ad-hoc nature of my work here in Honduras. I am finding that the most worth-while things I am able to do are pay for high school or English classes and recommend people for jobs but luckily I don’t have to limit myself to those things. As a free radical I am allowed to make connections wherever I think they are helpful. Someone wants to volunteer? I try and connect them with an NGO that would need their help. Someone wants to build a water treatment system, I will try connect them to institutions that need one. A group wants to go to NA meetings in San Pedro Sula at night when there is no public transit? Let’s go in my car. Perhaps a larger institution tries to see trends and provide wide-ranging/comprehensive services and thats important but with my limited resources I work within a limited scope and define finite issues that can be solved with finite funds or services.

Lastly because what I am able to give is very finite, I don’t have any eliminating factors. In fact I am drawn to sponsoring those that can’t get help from foundations and institutions because they are known thieves, active drug users or have been in prison. Knowing that someone is a thief, you could think that they are not deserving of a scholarship to study but for me someone who robs isn’t “a bad person”. They are a person who is doing something bad but they are rationalizing this behavior in their mind. It’s not worth it to argue whether or not stealing can be justified because to the thief it is. The only thing I can do is help take away the need to steal. Provide them opportunities to earn their money and show them that they are human beings deserving of help. Criminals enter into a vicious cycle where they aren’t trusted because they are “criminals” and then without opportunities their only options are criminal activity. You have to keep in mind though that it’s not a cut and dry solution. I want to believe that someone who once stole out of need but now makes money won’t steal but I know that in reality someone who is accustomed to “quick money” will find it hard to give up that habit. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort to try.

Harvard just released a 75-year study who’s goal was to determine as best as possible what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing. The article is interesting if you want to read it (http://www.feelguide.com/2013/04/29/75-years-in-th-making-harvard-just-released-its-epic-study-on-what-men-require-to-live-a-happy-life/) but the amazing thing is the #1 most important conclusion that the head of the study draws, “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: Happiness is love.  Full stop.” This is science people! This is science saying that love is the answer. So this reminds me that while money and access are necessary, I must provide them with love in mind.

I guess the answer to how I decide who is deserving of help is that anyone who needs help is deserving of help.