Monday, February 25, 2013

Photo of the Week...2.14-2.20


I remember the smell of freshly cut grass.  I remember the feel of the stadium lights shining down on me.  I remember the emotions filling me up as I put my arms around my teammates for the last time.  Taking in each face, each moment on the field, each touch of a soccer ball I felt on my well-worn cleats. I don't remember every game I ever played.  I don't remember how many goals I scored or how many girls I kept from scoring.  I don't remember every field I played on or how many miles I traveled.  What I do remember are the people that poured into me.  The people that shaped me into the person I am today. The relationships and bonds that formed as the result of a game.  

A group of men, living in all parts of the U.S., traveled this week to the Dominican to honor a friend, a mentor and a brother who lost his battle with cancer.  I never met Tommy Carter Barnes but this week I saw his legacy lived out through the lives he poured into.  These men worked from early morning to early evening demonstrating batting stances, proper throwing technique, and teachings on waiting for the right pitch.  They hugged and high-fived and fist-bumped a group of Dominican boys eager to learn, not only to be great baseball players, but also to be Godly men of integrity, discipline and character.  This group of North Americans have committed themselves, not just to the group of young boys in our baseball academy but have also committed to our four, full-time baseball coaches as well.

For families, and especially young men in this country, good, male role models are hard to come by.  That doesn’t mean they don't exist, it’s just not the cultural norm.  But on a baseball field lined with apartment complexes and broken down buildings, four men reminded me of how important investing in others really is.

Gamaliel, Rojas, Franklin and Jose Luis have become fathers, brothers and mentors to 210 young men desperately seeking someone to believe in them.  I have seen their dedication as they walk past my house every morning around 8:30 and don't pass by again until sometime after 5:00.  They always walk by with baseball players in tow who are asking questions, playing practical jokes on each other, laughing and practicing their swing in the middle of the street.  I had the unique opportunity this week to watch these four in action.  They don’t just show up at the field and do their “job” and hurry home.  They sit with the kids, share their lives with the kids and above all, they are building lasting relationships with them that these kids might not have elsewhere.

Each of the four men have their own stories; some growing up in the church, others growing up on the wrong side of the tracks.  But the common denominators between these men are the transformations that Christ did in each of them and a group of men from the United States who have committed to pouring into their lives so that they can pour into the lives of others using baseball as a catalyst.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Redemption Through the Eyes of a Little Girl


I have trouble with the hard questions, just like anybody else.  I serve a God that many people refuse to believe in because of the evil that wreaks havoc in our world.  I've seen hurt in people's eyes I can't erase.  I've heard stories that keep me up at night.  I know how people feel when they want to believe but just can't.  

I am no different.  

I don't understand why little boys are beaten or why fathers leave their families.  I don't understand why men's obsession with sex leads to prostitution and sex slavery.  I don't understand why children go hungry and thousands die every day.  These are all things I don't understand.

But what I have come to understand over the last decade is that my God is working ever so meticulously to restore a world he created and a people he fiercely loves.  It may not be on our time table or accomplished in our agenda but he works, without growing weary and never ceasing.

Every time I am on the drive to La Mosca I mentally prepare myself for what I will enter into.  We pass through the bustling city with vegetable venders and cute clothing boutiques to a community where trash burns, naked children roam the streets and people pick through garbage for a meal.

The summer of 2012 a medical group went to La Mosca to do a clinic for the children in the nutrition center.  We saw the usual cases of coughs and colds, skin infections and respiratory issues.  But as the day was coming to a close a young boy walks in carrying his little sister.  The boy looked healthy enough, although not wearing any shoes.  I looked him over wondering if he just came in for a check up or if he had other business at the nutrition center.  

As the blonde-headed baby he was holding turned around my heart instantly hurt and I did my best to not show it on my face.  In his arms was a child that looked to be no more than a year old with sparse hair, sunken eyes and skin that was literally sloughing off.  I walked over to them and holding back tears I touched the little girls' face.  She didn't react.  Not a smile, not a wince, nothing.  Just staring blankly at me with dark eyes.

I walked them over to one of the doctors and they sat down.  The horrified look on her face said more to me than if we had exchanged words.  She listened to her heart, checked her nose and ears, looked at the swollen, red skin and the pieces that were flaking off.  The doctor's expression changed from being horrified to being angry.  Her face reddened as she said that the child was in the final stages of malnutrition.  It wouldn't be long before her organs shut down.

I held a stern face as a tear began to fall from the corner of my eye.  I translated to the brother in the gentlest way possible about his sister's condition.  He sat stoic as if I had just told him my favorite color was green.  Everything in me wanted to snatch the little girl from his tiny hands and run away with her. But I've been here, in this moment, enough times to know that me adopting every child who is mistreated is both impossible and unhelpful.

We sent for the mother, a local prostitute and mother of six, and when she arrived I burned with anger.  I wanted nothing more than to give her a piece of my mind but quickly moved my thoughts to what would be best for her daughter.  With the doctors' help I explained the fate of her daughter if there was no intervention.  The mother sat there with an emotionless expression barely looking at the little one on her lap or any of us.  She told us her daughter was almost two and a half and we all tried not to react to what seemed to be impossible.

She walked out the door carting the little girl on her hip as if she was a piece of luggage and not a fragile child.  I felt the urge to rescue her, thinking to myself that when I returned to La Mosca again I would hear news of her passing.

A few months later we visited again and again the little girl came in with her siblings, no change in her condition, but at least still alive.  This time there was another staff member with me who was just as enraged as I was and we started talking to Pastor Luis about options.  Calling the police for child abuse?  Calling social services to have her taken from the home?  Asking the mom if we could adopt her?  All of these options Pastor Luis said would cause a lot of problems in the community and especially for the church.  People would view it as the Pastor ripping families apart and sticking his nose in business that wasn't his to be concerned with.  We talked to the older siblings and told them to talk to their mom.  And that was it.  They were out the door.

Fast forward to this week.  I saw "La Mosca" on the schedule again.  My heart sank.  I mentally prepared myself for the inevitable.  It had been three months since I visited and I was sure the little girl was gone.  Standing in the nutrition center I watched all of the kids pile in, scanning the room for a tiny little thing with sparse, blonde hair.  Suddenly, I saw a familiar twelve year old boy, carrying a blond-headed baby.  Her face turned toward me, just like the first day that I saw her, but this time bright eyes and chubby cheeks greeted me.  She walked, yes walked, to her spot on the nutrition center floor and began to eat.  I looked her over, every ounce of sloughing skin was gone.  Except for a few remaining scars her skin almost glowed.  I kneeled down next to her and touched her cheek and this time, she smiled.  A proud smile, like she knew what she had done was something special.  Like she knew she was giving this girl with her big, clunky camera...hope.

I know people wonder what they could possibly do to right what is so wrong in this world.  I know people wonder how a God that is supposedly so good could sit back and watch his children suffer.  But I know, as He has taken me on this intimate road of knowing Him, that His plans are so much grander than anything we could ever imagine.  Even when we don't understand Him, He is still there working. And if a doctor hadn't decided to come on a missions trip and find a small way to right what is so wrong in this world, that little girl wouldn't be here with us today.

I believe whole-heartedly that God could have wiped away all of her infirmities on His own but He chose to use us, not for his benefit, but for ours.