Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Broken & Beautiful

This is my last post on Mexico City, and I have saved what impacted me the most for last.  Maybe because it touched me to the very core.

We went to a place in Mexico City that I had not been to before this year. It is a Christian home for mentally and physically disabled women.

Some of the group had been before, but I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I have been in institutions like this in the US before – they are not always the most pleasant places to be. I was expecting that hospital / institutional smell. I was expecting controlled chaos. I was expecting residents that were not that well cared for.  I was expecting to be saddened.

That is NOT what I found.

This was the most peaceful, joyful place! The staff was happy, the residents were happy. It was amazing to see the residents helping in whatever way they could. But you see, these women are not just "residents". The woman who started this facility has personally ADOPTED each one of the women there - somewhere around 80 women. Her birth children help her to run this facility and another for men.  And we could have several other posts about the ongoing miracles at this place.  But I will stick, for not, to my story of the day...

I had been asked to share my testimony with these women. This in itself was an answer to a personal prayer. I shared Ephesians 2:10:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand, that we should walk in them.

I wanted these women to know that even with their disabilities, they are God’s workmanship, created for good works!  And that word "workmanship" did not just mean something put together & functional.  It implies a piece of art, fine craftsmanship - even a poem.  I shared with them ways that I was broken and how God had spoken to me with this scripture. Funny thing, is when I was done, many of the women came forward and prayed for me!  I am still at a loss for ways to explain how that felt. 

As our time together broke up, we were instructed to go talk with some of the other ladies. I was amazed by God’s faithfulness. You see, my brother in law, Joe, was both physically & mentally disabled. When I joined my husband's family, I really had no experience with someone like Joe. It was hard to adjust to him and his sometimes funny, sometimes irritating ways. When he passed away, I knew he had taught me so much.  I knew that I was a better person because of him.

 As I wandered through the women,   looking them in the eye,      talking with them,
                hugging them,  shaking their hands,  my mind was on Joe.

  The ability to connect with these women demonstrated God’s faithfulness as He turned


brokenness into something beautiful

 – his workmanship.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Thankfulness in Tepito

Every year we visit our friends Felipe & Sonya in Tepito. This year is the church’s 10 year anniversary. They have renamed the church “Solo por Gracias” which means For Grace Alone.

Tepito is very busy with open air markets. And there are homeless people all over the place – men sleeping on street corners, benches, where ever. And it is dirty. There is one corner that, honestly, has had a mountain of trash at it every time we go to Tepito.

Felipe & Sonya minister to the people of Tepito despite all of the odds. And our group has been helping them for a long time doing all sorts of things. One year, when Felipe was told they no longer had the building they were in, our group literally moved the rubble from an empty lot next door so that a new church could be built there. That is where their current building is. The first year I visited, there were walls in the new church and some lights. But the walls were just bare concrete block and the floor was bare concrete. Over the years, they continue to improve the building – but it is nothing like our building at Re3. They’ve painted the walls and put tile on the floor. But the ceiling is corrugated tin. Their bathrooms are literally stalls off the main room.

And their kitchen, that they run a soup kitchen out of, is about one quarter the size of the one at Re3. They have cabinets, but the upper cabinets were sitting on the counter top, so there was no work space. They had no running water. Their stove is run off of a propane tank – what we would call a really nice camp stove.

This year, part of our group put the cabinets on the wall and got the sink in working order. Believe me when I say it would never meet building code in Forsyth County. And I think it is safe to say that not one woman in Project:Re3 would give her kitchen up for the kitchen that Sonya uses – even with the improvements our folks made. But – if you could have seen the gratefulness in Sonya’s face. To have a sink in her kitchen that works – never mind it only has cold water. To have kitchen cabinets on the wall so that she could use the counter top. Her face just shone.

And maybe that is why I love going to Tepito. It is not Tepito itself, but this bright light that shines through Felipe & Sonya. The contrast between the dark and the light is so apparent at Tepito is makes me crave more. I want that for myself and those around me. I want to be thankful like they are thankful.

We complain if our cabinets are the wrong color. 

            Or we covet the kitchen with the granite countertops. 

                            We wonder how they did it in the old days with out a microwave.

 And yet this woman was thrilled with old used cabinets and countertop from the 60’s maybe?!

I want to be thankful.

                                              For running water.
 For the miracle of HOT running water.

 For a refrigerator.              For a stove and an oven.

                                                             For a church with clean white walls.

 And bathrooms.

And clean streets.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Common Ground

Every year, at least the women in the group go to the Merced to visit Bella Esperanza. Bella Esperanza is a hair salon that our very own Angie Fuentes started. It was & is her vision to reach out to the prostitutes in Christ’s love by building relationships with them. What better way than having a hair salon. Groups from North Carolina actually help build the salon by putting up walls, painting – even installing sinks! Since Angie is with us now, it is under the direction of her friend Betsy.

Amazing things have been happening recently, as first 8, and then another 7 women left the sex trade. The girls have been taught a new trade – making jewelry. Last year when we visited, the jewelry making business was housed in the back of the salon and we were able to meet with the first 8 women and hear some of their stories.

Briana, Paige, Kayla & Laura organizing
As more women joined the jewelry making business, it took over the entire salon. Hair cutting stations were taken apart and room was made for the ladies to make their jewelry. Because the staff was so busy with the jewelry business, the salon and meeting new girls was put to the side. Now, the jewelry making has moved to another location and the salon was empty. So we were given a task – put the salon back into order so that the work of building relationships with more girls could begin.

I have to say, I was so proud of our little group. With very little direction, we put the salon back into order – everyone doing their part. And then some of our group went out with Angie and Betsy to talk with the girls out on the street and invite them to lunch. We were not sure if they would come or not – but three of them did. These girls were hungry and had no money to buy lunch. In reality, they make very little money, and what they do make goes to their ‘boss’. Angie and Betsy spoke with them and told them how much God loved them. They were invited to come back to the safety of Bella Esperanza to rest and eat again.

The finished product
Can I say how out of my comfort zone to think about sitting at a table and eating lunch with prostitutes? And yet we did – and it is hard to describe how we could find common ground with these women. They were young – as one of the younger gals in our group remarked – her age. Young enough to be my daughters. Being with them made me realize that I make assumptions about why women are prostitutes and why they continue in that life style. I want to think that they are ‘bad’ , but really? What if I were in their shoes? Could I really say I would refuse to do what they have done? Especially before I knew Christ? In many cases, it is not a choice they made, but a lifestyle that was forced upon them. A lifestyle that they cannot leave for various reasons. Slavery. Not an easy thing to see. But really – they are just women – like me. Hurt. Rejected. Insecure. Just trying to make life work.

As I go about my life at home – I want to remember this. I want to remember that there are many forms of slavery. In the U.S., our slavery is usually hidden – or at least looks ‘better’. It may be financial, emotional or spiritual. It is slavery nonetheless. I make assumptions about why a person acts the way they do – and most of the time I am wrong. I would be much better off to assume we have common ground and to find it.

Oh – if you are interested in the lovely jewelry these ladies make, the organization is called Nunayu.
 You can find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Nunay%C3%BA-481127285377829/

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Future Belongs To Me

Do you really think what you are doing matters? 

This is a well-meaning question that I often get from friends when I tell them that I am going on another short-term mission trip. 

I am not angry when I am asked this question because I get it.  When you look at Mexico City, Uganda, or El Salvador, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the need. For example, according to UNICEF, more than half of Uganda's children live in poverty.  This doesn't just mean that they live in a household with low income but it includes being deprived of basic necessities such as food, shelter, clean water and education. 

When I recently took a trip to Uganda with Fields of Dreams Uganda, I was overwhelmed by the need that I observed.  For every child that we assisted by paying school fees, many others still could not afford an education.  Even if we could help the children stay in school, many of the children are starving and go the entire day without food.  If the children are in school and have some food, they may be abused at home, or they may not even have a home and live at the school. 

At times, when I only saw what was right in front of me, I felt overwhelmed and wanted to give up.  However, serving on short term mission trips and serving on the Board of Directors of Fields of Dreams Uganda have taught me that progress is  slow and takes time and dedication, but much progress is being made. 

If we go into an environment and try to "fix" every issue, we will quickly burn out and lose hope, but if we focus on the individuals that are impacted by our work, that is where true progress is observed.

When I was in Gulu, Uganda, I briefly met a young man and we connected.  We chatted for a few minutes, and I gave him a picture of my family that had my contact information on the back.  This was in late February.

Just this week, I received a message from this young man through Facebook.  Somehow, despite having no electricity or running water, he was able to gain internet access.  He had kept the picture that I gave him, and he messaged me. He told me he is studying hard to reach his dreams.  Then he asked how his brothers and sister in the USA are doing.  He specifically mentioned each of my children by name.

In that moment, I knew the answer to the question, "Do you really think what you are doing matters?"  My trip to Uganda may not matter to the country of Uganda, or even the town of Gulu.  But when I just showed up at one school and met one boy, I mattered so much to him that he cherished a picture of my family for months.  He held onto my contact information until he could find a way to contact me.  

If my trip meant nothing to anyone else, it mattered to this boy.  This boy who has dreams and hope.  I matter to him. 

Isn't that all that really matters?  When you read about Jesus and his ministry, most of Jesus' miracles focused on the individual.  Sure, he preached to the masses, but when he healed, he healed the individual.  He didn't ride into town and end hunger.  He didn't eradicate leprosy and disease.  Jesus met the need of the individual that he was with at that moment.  If someone needed food, he fed the individual.  If someone needed healing, he healed the individual. 

We are not called to save the world or solve the world's problems.  We are called to just show up. And when we just show up, our job is to be present in the moment and love the people that stand before us. 

Skeptics may say that we have done nothing that matters, but if you talk to the boy in Gulu that I am messaging daily, I think he would say otherwise.  I think he would tell you that just by showing up, he knows that someone cares. Someone loves him.  It gives him hope.

For more reflections by Beth Gianopulos, check out www.PWLawyerMom.org

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Heart Check at the Children's Home

This year was my 3rd trip to Mexico.  Each year we help at the Salvation Orphanage Home.

The first year I visited, our arrival was greeted as if we were Santa Claus. ALL of the kids were in the lobby to see us, climbing on guys, hugging us. They were starved for affection. Any time we had free time and were sitting in the lobby, you could bet that we each had 2 or 3 kids on our laps or sitting around us. There were no people other than the staff at the home except for our group. Other people who had been on the trip before told me it was like this every year.

That same year, the home was put under the direction of Captain Luis. Captain Luis is a man of vision. People from our group who had been to the home in previous years said there was a difference in the atmosphere of the home that year.

The second year I went, the kids were plenty excited to see us – but not quite as much as the year before. One day a lady from a local church was there tutoring some kids. And a taekwon-do instructor came a couple of times a week to give classes to ALL of the kids. There were musical instruments and band practice. The kids called the Captain “Cappy” and you could tell they truly liked him.

This year, we arrived while the kids were on summer vacation, so the home was not as full as usual. (Some of the children still have family and are able to go home on weekends and vacations.) But the kids there - well, they were happy to see us. But they were not starving for affection and attention. They had something planned almost every day we were there – field trips, service trips, etc. While we were there another large group came and entertained the kids. Many of them were dressed as clowns and did funny routines.

I know that the kids still need us, but not like before. We no longer are the highlight of their year. This is awesome, right? These kids are being fed emotionally, physically and spiritually – all year long.

But can I be brutally honest? It was kind of disappointing. It feels good to be the highlight of someone’s year, never mind an entire orphanage. And so, while the realization was that these kids don’t need us like they did is a wonderful thing, but kind of its kind of bittersweet. It made me look at why I go on these trips. Is it really to help others – or is it to make myself feel good – about myself?? Truthfully, I’m not sure I have the complete answer. But maybe this is the advantage of going to the same place multiple times. We get to see things change and grow, knowing we helped along the way. And maybe, just maybe God uses this to remind us that He works through others to rebuild, restore & renovate.

Later I will share more lessons from my trip to Mexico City.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Project:Re3 Mission Trips For 2017 Announced!

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Have you often wished you could travel on a short term mission trip?  Do you want to go with a group of amazing people that share your passion for people, service, and serving the Lord? Are you excited about the idea of a short term mission trip, but you don't know where to start?  If you answered, "Yes!", then this post is for you!

Project:Re3 has just announced the short term mission trips for 2017.  As you pray about whether one of the trips is the trip for you, consider the following:
• Registration for the trips will occur January 1st-31st. You will need to pay a $100 deposit in January to hold your spot.
• We have an early bird discount - If you sign-up AND pay your deposit by January 15th, you will get a $200 discount on the total cost of the trip. If you sign-up AND pay your deposit by January 16th-31st, you will get a $100 discount. If you sign-up after January you will not receive any discounts.
• Half of the balance of your trip is due April 1st. The remaining balance is due June 1st.
• Once airline tickets are purchased, you are responsible for the cost of your plane ticket even if you must drop out.
• Each trip is limited to 15 people

Now for the EXCITING part!  The trips for 2017!

Peru (Relational/Service)
May 19th-29th
Cost: $600 plus airfare

Are you interested in sharing the good news of Christ with indigenous people high in the rural mountains of Curahuasi, Peru?

Are you interested in partnering with a missionary family for a week, doing whatever ministries God places before you?
Do you love children?
If you answered yes, then this is the trip for you.
Curahuasi is the land of “ANIS” (aniseed), which is used to make scented, well flavored teas, pastries and breads, as well as used for medicinal properties in helping stomach issues. Curahasi is located in the heart of "Quechua country”. The city of Curahuasi is 9,000 feet above sea level (high-altitude). If you have heart problems, please consult your doctor prior to booking this trip due to the high altitude.
We will travel between the dates of May 19-29. The exact dates will be determined based on flights. The trip will most likely be 8-9 days.
On this trip, the work will vary daily based on the needs of our host missionary family, the Heath Family (http://heathfamilyjustlovejesus.blogspot.com/). There is a possibility that we will travel to rural villages to deliver shoeboxes that were shipped over Christmas. We may work on the Children's Home that the Heath family is building (the building will house 56 children), we could lead VBS and play with children doing children's ministry, or we may minister to the men and women of the village.
The approximate cost of this trip will vary greatly depending on the price of airline tickets. At this time, there are some red eye flights departing from Raleigh that are approximately $1,000. The cost of daily lodging, meals, and transportation is $35 per day. Additionally, if the group plans to spend 2 days on a cultural excursion to Macchu Picchu, the cost for the excursion is $300. I estimate that if we find a flight for $1000, the total cost of the trip will be approximately $1600. However, the trip could cost as much as $2,500 if the flights are more expensive. We will make every effort to find the most cost effective flight.
If you are interested in this trip, please contact Beth Gianopulos for more information.

Guatemala (Medical)
June 24th-July 1st
Cost: $550 plus airfare
What if you could combine the DNA of Indiana Jones, Albert Sweitzer and Saint Mother Teresa into one mission trip?
It Could Be You!!
Imagine traveling in a 4-wheel drive vehicle around active volcanoes and rolling the windows up to avoid the splash of water while crossing rivers and streams. Seeing ancient Mayan ruins as you pull into a dirt road sleepy little Guatemalan village. You will enter cinder block, dirt floor homes, and perform first aid on an elderly woman, fit a teen with severe CP with a wheelchair or be a shoulder for a young mom, whose husband has abandoned her and her children. You will also be able to deliver food and medicine to those in need.
If going door to door doesn’t interest you, then if you have medical training or just want to greet and mingle then a medical clinic is just the right fit. We will setup in a village for a day or two and treat the local Mayan community of all ages. You will be treating respiratory conditions to machete wounds. You will be busy, so busy that you will have to be reminded to drink water and eat. Before you know it, night has fallen, Buenos Noches.
If adventure and band aids is not your thing, you can have a play day at Hogar de la Esperanza. You will be able to assist in the care and feeding of orphaned children who love to play and have individual attention. If you are not careful you won’t want to leave them. Watch out for Yeni, she will steal your heart.
You will be guaranteed that this is not your typical mission trip. You will return home with the realization that what took place in the past week of your life was greater than yourself and that you will never be the same.

Chillicothe, OH (Youth Workcamp/Home Repair)
June 24th-July 1st
Cost: $450
Explore the true meaning of your faith in this exciting, small city where the Appalachian mountains meet the sweeping plains of the Midwest.
Within sight of the western edge of the Appalachian foothills, the first capitol of Ohio has a population of about 22,000 warm and friendly people. But like so many towns, too many of those people struggle with the challenges of aging—or the pain of having to choose between food, medicine and clothing, or badly-needed maintenance on their crumbling, aching homes.
A local church—whose members have served in many Workcamps in other communities—invites your group to join with them to bring the love of Christ to their home town. Joining together in faith, you and your students will reach out to the needy by fixing leaky roofs, building wheelchair ramps and handrails, reconstructing sagging, dangerous porches, and tackling significant painting projects.

Pine Ridge, SD (Home Repair / Native American)
Week One - July 8th-15th
Week Two - July 15th-22nd
Cost: $475 plus airfare/travel
Project:Re3 began serving in Pine Ridge in 2013. Not only is this one of the largest reservations in the nation, but it is also the poorest. The living conditions are desolate and there is a great need for prayer, love, and hope in the name of Jesus. On your trip to the Pine Ridge, you will have the opportunity to participate in many home repair projects such as roofing, siding, flooring, building wheel chair ramps, and much more. In addition to the construction work there is much opportunity for growing in friendship with many local community members. You can expect to learn much about the Lakota Sioux Tribe history and culture.

Mexico City (Relational/Service)
July 29th-August 4th
Cost: $300 plus airfare
Does traveling to a foreign country, working with orphans and abandoned women, and serving in the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the largest cities in the world either excite you or scare you to death? If you said yes then this trip is for you! We will spend the week serving at a Salvation Army children's home, ministering to kids in Tepito, and sharing the love of Jesus with the women of Centro el Recobro.

I hope that you will pray about participating in some way in one of the Project:Re3 mission experiences. If you cannot travel, but you feel drawn to one of the trips, let us know.  There are so many ways that you can support the teams that travel and be involved in the ministry even if you cannot travel.