Feeling Thankful (How our US staff are so important)

Fridays. These days are often very heavy for me as I welcome and orient groups to our site in Monterrey, Mexico. It is a day that starts at 8am and will go at least until 8pm or later. As we gather at our morning meeting to prepare and pray for the day, I sit and just feel overwhelmed with thankfulness.

My thankfulness is for the people who work for Back2Back who live in the US. Although it may seem we have a very hard job  in the mission field outside the US, their job is just as hard or harder at times. Here are some things that others do not know about our amazing staff in the US:

  1. It is hard to raise support (bring in people to give tax deductible donations to B2B for the salary you will receive) in the US. They are not in the “mission field” some would say. The stories that they may provide sometimes are not stories they were directly connected with on a day to day basis. These are  stories people love to hear about when you’re raising support or gathering ministry partners.
  2. They do a lot of necessary, vital, administrative work that goes unnoticed to most people.
  3. They constantly see friends and family members getting high paying jobs all around them and yet they continue to live out the “call” God has given them. They walk out this “call” on their life all the while receiving a fair, but meager salary.
  4. B2B loves to go deep and with our missionaries on the ground serving it can be very hard to plan for the future, create large budgets, push the ball forward, and continue to go deeper in every country we are in. B2B believes that God can change  childcare in a whole country and we are not only going deep with each child, but with the governments as well. All this planning starts, is followed up on, and supported through our US staff and Board.

Here is how we are supported by  our US office staff:

  1. All the details, flights, preparation for the missions trips, and communication is all done through our US staff. So there is no need for our site missionaries to be burdened by administrative work.
  2. Groups are prepped for what to expect and any necessities that are needed go through the US site filter first. This mentally prepares missions guests before they arrive.
  3. Any donations coming from groups or donors go through our great US based staff to help guide these people to the actual “needs” of our sites/B2B. This allows us to move forward, to be more methodical, and to go deep rather than always doing sporadic projects that donors are excited about.
  4. In raising money for a specific project in Monterrey, we have staff in the US speaking with people to get this done and they spend countless hours raising money for a specific need.
  5. All marketing, devotionals, new approaches, and new skills all come from our US site. We do not have to concern ourselves that much with all this as they are continuing to fill us up and prepare us in better ways.
  6. They handle staff care, we have our US staff checking in on us. They provide counseling and friendship for us. They make sure we are not falling apart and burning out, and speak truth, love, and peace into our lives.
  7. They provide much needed follow up for missions guests. When missions guests and churches leave, our staff help them to continue talking about the things they learned as well as creating deeper partnerships so our children can benefit from continuity through relationships and resources.
  8. Our US staff feel like extended family and will bring down gifts, little treats, mail, and things we are just missing from the US.
  9. Our US staff come down fairly often to live and serve alongside us. When they do, they lift so many burdens and loads.
  10. From the top down our staff approaches everything we do from the mindset that we need to do it excellently because we represent the Gospel.
  11. Lastly, from the top down the continual theme is: we will never dumb down that Jesus is everything, and without Jesus in everything, and being everything, we would not be able to do anything. The Gospel is central to who we are and what we do. I love knowing that we will never be scolded or told to silence the Gospel for whatever reason or whoever the donor/person is, but yet are encouraged to share it through truth and love to the fullest.

As you can see, I was thankful for a lot that day and wanted to be sure you all knew about it. I am blessed to be able to be with a ministry that cares so deeply about staff support, going deeper, being great stewards of God’s resources, sharing the Gospel, and being excellent in everything. Although it can be exhausting and lonely in the “mission field”, my brothers and sisters in Christ are a huge blessing in the US in their “mission field.”

Hats off to our fellow missionaries living in the States. You do not need to be living in a third world country to be a missionary. We are so thankful for you.

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Huh, they are listening

You know as a parent, youth pastor, boss, teacher, etc… you always wonder if the kids you are speaking to are listening. We can put so much hard work into pouring into these kids, but it can be hard to see if the effort is paying off in the moment.

A big part of what I do down here in MTY is pour into our 15-23 year old Hope Program students. The Hope Program students are the children we put through High School and College. The biggest activity I have with them is with our soccer team. With the team, Los Dos, we have weekly practices on Sunday nights followed by a bible study, team events (meals, movies, missions trips, etc…), games, and then I mentor & disciple 3-4 of the leaders on the team/in the program.

With the Bible study on Sundays with the whole team it can sometimes be great and sometimes the guys can just be uninvolved and tired. But, every week we have a bible verse we read, discuss, and pray over. I laminate these verses to be business card size and give them each one. I have seen certain kids chew on them, throw them away, or just leave them where we were sitting after bible study.

But, God has shown me recently how those seeds are not lost on everyone. 2-3 of the guys recently showed me how they have kept every single card in their wallet, and we are probably up to around 30. Also, another of the older players just recently sent an encouraging word to the rest of the team with the photo below.

It is of him chilling with the Bible Verse in his sock during a bike workout. This verse specifically is, Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We were teaching them to be more like a family, to not: put down each other, fight against each other, to control their tongue. But rather to support, encourage, and how to constructively speak to some one.

It is a good reminder that: they are listening and that God has us down here for a reason.

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Leo graduated!

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This picture is from the summer of 2015, right before we moved to Monterrey to serve these guys full time. Little did we know that Leo would be such a big part of our lives. He was a charismatic kid, that loved to be tough, mouthed off a little, and would always joke around. This picture is actually right before he was kicked out of the Hope Program for all the stupid stuff he was about to do (don’t worry, he would agree with me saying that to you all, it is the truth haha).

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We moved down to Monterrey September of 2015 and that next month Leo started hanging out at our house all the time. He came to know the Lord and turned from the bad decisions he was making. Around that same time, we started  our Hope Program soccer team, called Los Dos. This is where Leo and I started doing in depth discipleship and mentoring.

Then one day about 7 months later the kid that once got kicked out of the Hope Program came back to speak at a retreat for our children’s home kids. He was the main speaker. He told his story, bared all, and God used him in big ways.

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It has been a little over a year since he spoke at that retreat and he just graduated college. We are so proud of the man of God he is becoming.

We have a new tradition here in Back2Back Monterrey. When a student graduates, they are allowed to ring a big bell on campus. The idea is that the students see this bell all the time and hope and dream to ring it one day. They know that day will be when they graduate.

Well, On July 3rd, 2017 Leo rang that bell so hard. As our family spoke to all who attended, this is what I said,

” It is not how you start, or how you run the race that matters most, but it is how you finish. Leo, you got off to a rough start, but you’re finishing well. Also, you graduating means nothing to us compared to you knowing Jesus. We are so proud of you for the fact that you love Jesus with all your heart and are allowing God to use you in others’ lives.”

Well done, my brownie bro. We will always be here for you. We am excited to see the husband and father you will be one day.

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We have a good good Daddy

God is so good. When we first arrived here in Mexico, the first thing I noticed was the soccer field. Now… B2B staff did the best they could to keep up with the wear and tear on the field. But, it is extremely difficult when the rain comes and the kids play on this field 24/7.

I remember asking one of our Hope Program students, “What is one thing you would love to have happen while your here at B2B?” He replied, ” To play on some good soccer fields.”

I had found a new turf field that was just being built down the street from us, but it was difficult to find time to get onto this field. We also play on turf fields for our league games, but these fields not only cost us to play on them, but they also are very old, beat up, and just not good.

Honestly, I was not even praying for a new turf soccer field. We have education and living expenses for our students that we need money for and those are way more important than turf fields. So, I never really prayed about it or spoke to anyone about it.

Then the summer of 2016 hit and there was one man that asked the question, “Jed, I see that the field on campus needs some work, what if you and the kids could have new turf to play on whenever you wanted in its place?”

I said, “Well, that would be amazing, but we have needs in our Hope Program in paying for kids education, that is more important right now.”

He said, “Well, what if I pay for half of that turf field, and I will still donate to the Hope Program?”

I said, “Well, I cannot argue with that.”

That in and of itself is amazing, especially because we were not praying for it. But, God hears the cry of His children no matter if it is a field or education.

Within a week the funds came in for the field. We were in August and we set a timeline of December 31st to have the other half raised. We, B2B staff, were calling all of our contacts that may jump in on this, but most of our traction would come in 2017. We had raised some money but still needed a big chunk.

Here comes December 30th and we still need a little under half. Then a man calls in about placing a donation online. He wanted to designate it to the field, but was figuring out how to do it online. We thought it would be a smaller donation. But, one of our staff came in after New Years and looked at the incoming donations and saw the amount. That man had given the other half that was needed. We were astonished and amazed. We fully thought there was no way to get this money in on the timeline we had set. Then BOOM, God is like, I can do all things my son.

We have such a good Daddy in our God. He not only loves to answer our prayers, but he loves to give when we do not ask as well. And now we have a new turf field on campus that our kids play on every single day, our team plays on every week, and all of us are just enjoying.

Why does God do this kind of stuff? Well, He loves seeing his children happy and enjoying themselves. And He especially loves doing things when we have no part in them at all, no prayers, no nothing. That way, literally the only glory we can give is to God. Lastly, he hears His children’s cries, and He loves to respond to them.

Here is a video that shows the development as well.

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Age does not matter…only desire and faith

 

As she listened to the stories of children requesting their “own” books at the children’s home her heart was touched. She knew from that moment on something had to be done. I mean, she had so many of her “own” books. She knows the value of having your “own” stuff and how impactful it would be if these children had things of their own. It could provide a sense of value, a sense of autonomy, a sense that there is a God out there the does care about their wants and needs.

Usually when someone walks up to you to explain their desire of helping these vulnerable children, it is sad to say, but it does not come to fruition on our end. You do not lose hope that God will not send someone, but you do become a little skeptical. When God places a girl in your life like little Jacqueline, that skepticism turns to how optimism and ultimately how great God is.

This girl was only 14 years old. Most kids her age, if not all, only are thinking about snapchat, instagram, and what movie they will go see next. But, she was eager to find out exactly what the kids wanted and needed within the children’s home. It was explained to her how beneficial it would be for the children to not only have their own book, but also to purchase a certain kind of test to identity education weaknesses. Again, we were a little skeptical because there are not too many 14 year old girls out there willing to pay for something like this themselves. Oh yeah, forgot to tell you that, she wanted to raise this money on her own like a champ.

Her parents were happy to hear this, but also did not know how she would get this done.

When missions guests come to Back2Back on a mission trip we do a nightly debriefing session that teaches people to process, pray, and think about what God is doing during that week. Ultimately the goal is for people to go home and to continue their eager drive for the orphan and not to crash and burn because the high is over.

This girl would not bow out easily. She made a plan and stuck with it. When she returned home she sold baked goods at EVERY possible Home sporting school event she could. She laid out the items and with vigor told people about the books, the tests that were needed, and the impact her trip made on her life. Through that first Fall season she raised over $700 and then because of her advocacy she raised another $800 through generous donors. She raised more money than was originally requested.

The next visit she had to Monterrey we took her around and showed her the impact of her efforts. Usually we do this with adults, but here we were bringing this now 15 year old around and showing her the impact that God has made through her strong desire to fight for the vulnerable children in this world.

I am so excited to see how this girl will grow and what big things God will do through her.

Missions guests, especially the young ones, often ask me if I have any ideas on how they can sponsor a child, get involved, or in what ways they can raise the money. I provide some ideas, but I usually share this story and then go on to say, “It is not how old you are that matters, it is how big your desire and faith are.”

Below is a Thank You note from one of our Volunteer Coordinators on how deep the impact went from this 14 year olds desire to help,

We are very happy that the kids were able to experience receiving a totally new book for their literature classes in the library, and the kids were even happier! They were able to write their names inside the cover and know that after they finish reading that book with the volunteers, it will not become a part of the general library, but a part of their personal library- the book is theirs!

 
This has helped them a lot because they are able to value and take care of the book that belongs to them. But the best part is that they are able to follow along while another child is reading and they even can correct each other when one of them messes up. We were able to make this a reality in Bethany, Casa Hogar Douglas and Casa Hogar Del Norte.
 
We were also able to purchase a psychological test that schools generally ask for when a child has learning difficulties. It was very expensive to pay someone to apply those tests each time, but now we, along with some local volunteers who are psychology students, have evaluated 3 children and we are preparing to continue evaluating children who need it. The great thing about this test is that it allows us to specifically detect what the children need in order to achieve learning. We are then able to tell the local volunteers how to best help those children.
 
Sometimes we don’t know the impact that it can have when we choose to obey God’s voice when our hearts tell us to do something, but we are honestly so grateful for people like you who have sensitive hearts- not only to the needs of others, but most importantly, sensitive to God who directs us in how to serve others.”
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Los Dos Practice

One of my favorite things to do on Sunday afternoons is to take the little boys to watch their daddy training the Los Dos guys at Back2Back. They love playing soccer with the big boys and running around on the field. We are really exciting about a new development on campus that will affect our soccer team. Stay tuned for more!

 

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Just Needed Time

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Christian is a really good kid. He has a heart of gold, he works so hard, is so respectful, and will be the first one to serve. But, when it comes to deep conversation and talking about Jesus, I have never see that side of him, until…

Two weeks before the trip Christian decided he was able to go and he worked hard to come. This would also be Christian’s first time outside of the state and to the beach.

I was praying hard for a special encounter with Christian. We spent time at each children home, but through each debriefing Christian still was not opening up. We played, spent time on the beach, and ate lots of great food. Still, nothing. Just the same old steady Christian who served, was kind, gentle, and loving. But, no true depth or emotion. For the past couple months I had been praying for whom God was placing on my heart to disciple and mentor this year. Each year I have enough capacity in my schedule to mentor and disciple three or four of our boys in the Hope Program. It is a lot for our family to commit to this, but we feel it is of the utmost importance. At the end of the trip I felt like it was confirmed that one of the boys should be Christian. Christian seemed pretty excited to do it, but the weeks following it was hard for us to get together.

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About a month ago Christian came to our house for the first time. We did not spend time in the Word, but we spent time talking. I told him that our house and relationship is safe and nothing will be told to others. That I want to go deep with him and in that we will get to know the deepest and even darkest areas of our lives. We will fight for each other, be there for each other, and ultimately direct each other to Jesus. Christian looked around and for the next 1-2 hours started to speak about his life, his family, life on the streets, fighting, fears, and hopes. I could see him take a deep breath and I could see with his body language saying “finally.” He had been holding so much in for so long, putting his head down, and fighting his way through life. He spent half the day at our house eating two meals, playing with our kids and we would sporadically talk about Jesus, our lives, our pasts, and what it means to be a man after God. I could see him take it in and if he did not have somewhere to be I could have seen him stay the whole night.

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You see, most of the kids we serve are around people all their lives, they do not have privacy, they do not usually have the opportunity to speak individually with people and just be one on one. He had our family to himself and we could see him getting filled up and walls being broken down. He has now been over to our house 4 more times and would not miss our discipleship/bible study/ family time for nothing. He spends around 4 hours at our house each time and one of those hours is digging deep in the Word with me.

You see, discipleship is not just sitting down for an hour and going over the Word of God, it is doing life together. Yes, Jesus sat down with his disciples, but there are more stories of Jesus teaching his disciples through life experiences.  God continually reminds our family to go deep and allow each young man we disciple to spend an unlimited amount of time at our house.

What I did not know was that God was using our soccer team and our trip to Mazatlan together to continue to chip away at Christian’s heart. I am so excited to see what God has in store for our weeks following and for Christian’s life. He is an awesome young man.

 

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A New Beginning

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Mario had just arrived to the Hope Program a month prior to our trip. We were unsure if it was a smart thing to allow him to go on the trip when he needed to focus on school, but we ultimately decided to allow him to go. He did not have the time to work his hours to pay for the trip, so we asked him to do as much as he could before and then finish the task after the trip. You see, we had been trying for three years to get Mario into the Hope Program, but it was not happening. Then he started playing soccer with our Hope Program soccer team, Los Dos, and he started bonding very quickly with our team and the players. We believe that Los Dos was one of the catalysts to drive Mario to the Hope Program and we are so thankful that we have him in the program now. He is a kind kid, loves soccer, and has a big heart. Our son Joah loves playing soccer with him because Mario is gentle and kind with him.

 

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Mario had a special trip to Mazatlan. This was his first time outside of the state of Nuevo Leon and thus his first time to the beach.

We arrived and Mario was a natural with the children, but what I did not see happening was the interaction between a boy named Ricky and him at the children’s Home Rancho de los Niños.

Ricky is blind, can barely speak if at all, and has cerebral palsy. Ricky’s favorite thing is movement. He loves walking through grass and in general just walking around. Being around Ricky is a special thing. Although he cannot share the Gospel through words, pray for people, or interact, God uses Ricky more than most I have ever known.

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I asked each boy to take Ricky for a walk and when it was Mario’s turn, Mario walked around with Ricky and Ricky stopped every once and while and sat down. He typically will place your fingers on his temples to rub as he has a lot of pain behind his eyes. He will also place your hands on his feet to rub. His feet are not the most clean and I could see some of the other guys hesitate. But, I looked at Mario and saw him jump right into rubbing Ricky’s feet.

I was standing in the field cutting grass speaking with Gabo, the MZT Director, and we looked over at Mario and Ricky. We both were surprised to see Ricky touching Mario’s face. Ricky was so close to Mario’s face and you could see Mario smiling and laughing a little. This definitely was not expected. As I looked at Gabo he said, ” huh that is cool, Ricky is trying to get to know Mario.” It struck me that Ricky is blind and a very common occurrence for blind people is that when they want to know someone deeper, they touch their face so they can picture the other person’s face in their mind’s eye. Of all the boys Ricky walked with today he only had done this with Mario. Gabo started laughing and said, “I am gonna go tell Mario.” I watched Gabo walk over to tell Mario and watched Mario’s face change as he realized.

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Later that night during debriefing, we were talking about our favorite moments of the day and Mario brought up this moment with Ricky. He said God touched his heart so deeply. He is not normally around kids with special needs and seeing how God moves through Ricky was a powerful thing for him.

When we returned, a few days later, Mario’s house parent Luis came up to me and said, “Mario really had an amazing trip.” I said, “I am glad to hear.” Luis went on to say, ” That time he spent with Ricky was powerful for him, he is still talking about it, and God is touching his life with that time.” Mario is growing and doing Bible Study with Leo right now. But, as Becca said, the moments you have on this trip no one can take them from you. Remember them and let God move through them inside of you.

Thank you Jesus that God is doing great things through these young men.

 

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The Prodigal Son Has Returned

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Leo has been very close to our family for some time now and I really wanted him to go to Mazatlan with us. Leo is one of the captains of our team and the guys look up to him because he is vulnerable and real about his imperfect past and hope in Jesus. Also, Leo interned in Mazatlan for two summers prior to this trip. I was excited for everyone to see the new Leo. Leo had a tough task of working to provide for himself, to pay for school, and to pay for some of his trip since he is out of the Hope Program now. As the days inched closer, Leo tried to find different ways to pay for the trip and my heart hurt that I could not just pay for him to go. He is like a son to us. But, we knew as a family that Leo needed to find a way and trust God. The day we were leaving Leo came to me and presented me the money for the trip. He worked extra, sold some stuff, and ultimately God provided for him to go.

Leo was so excited to be going back to Mazatlan, a place where he gave so much of himself and decided to truly follow after Christ. When we arrived at every children’s home we visited, nearly every child came running to see Leo. I could see how excited they were to have him back. They missed him and loved on him. One of the days we played a soccer game with the children at Salvation Army Children’s Home and the kids followed him around and went step for step with Leo. You could see that Leo was coming even more alive.

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It was great to see Leo leading us in our Bible study every morning. Then, it was especially awesome to see Leo going back to the home he served at most and that was Rancho de los Niños. This is a home for children with severe special needs. Leo sat and talked to the children and joked around with them. He worked hard on our projects and guided little Carlitos as they cut the grass together. He brought such a sweet peace and love to this home.

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My favorite part of the whole trip was our last day. We spent half the day at the beach, playing, surfing, and relaxing we then moved onto the all girls children’s home Floreser. Grant, the captain of the home, welcomed us in and asked us to share with the girls. We sat together and I asked Leo to share his testimony. I sat there on the table, watching and taking pictures. My heart swelled with pride and a deep love for Leo. I felt like a father, so proud of his son who has come a long way, fought through trials, and now I get to watch how God is using him to change his legacy and others through his story. You could see all the girls eyes fixed on Leo as he shared his struggles in the children’s homes, his struggles with his pain and how he tried to mask it, and then how amazing Jesus is. Seeing his eyes light up talking about his Daddy God was so special. But, the best part was seeing the girl’s eyes as they saw a man admit to his struggles, own them, but then give them to his Jesus was so powerful. I encouraged them to wait for a man like Leo, to be patient, and to keep their eyes and heart solely for God.

 

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If you were to ask Leo, “Hey, could you have imagined that God would have changed your life like this and to use you like this?”. He probably would laugh and say, “No way man, no way, God is good.”

I thank God for this trip- for making a way for Leo to go back to one of his favorite places and continue to use him in new ways to bring hope.

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Jonathan’s Journey to & Through Mazatlan

 

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Jonathan spent most of his life growing up in children’s homes. He is a good kid who usually keeps to himself. So, when I presented the idea of going to Mazatlan, MX with our Los Dos team, I was surprised to see Jonathan so excited. Jonathan immediately started working on the requirements to go. Each boy needed to complete at least 40 hours of service on our campus. The young men not a part of the Hope Program anymore needed to pay for most of their way. We wanted kids to have skin in the game even though what they were bringing to the table would not cover the full cost of the trip. Also, we figured while each young man was working they would be welcomed into a mentoring role by the other men working alongside them on campus.

Jonathan continually planned and worked hard to complete his hours. He was so excited to go.

We saw a glimpse of his disciplined heart as he worked toward his goal.

We left for our trip and Jonathan, in general, kept to himself. Yes he laughed and joked around, but nothing much deeper. After our second day in Mazatlan, I saw something start to break open in his heart. We were in debriefing with Rodolfo and Becca Arguello, our co-site directors in Mazatlan, when Jonathan started going deep, “You know, most of my life I was told I would not complete school and I was not good enough.” He continued to talk about the challenges growing up in a children’s home and then said, “I am so thankful that very soon I will complete high school and go on to college.”  Rodolfo looked at Jonathan with a knowing smile. Rodolfo was one of our first Hope Program students to graduate college and now he is an integral part of Back2Back’s ministry with his wife and two sons. God has completely changed his legacy and generations after him. Rodolfo looked at Jonathan and said, “You are a child of God, you are smart, and God has made you to be a great man.” Becca and I were about to cry as we saw God use Rodolfo in Jonathans life. We saw a man who came from the same background speaking life into a younger brother.

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Later that night, Jonathan and I lie awake talking in depth about life, Jesus, his future, and my experiences. These were by far the deepest conversations I have had with Jonathan. God continued to show me throughout this trip that by taking these young men outside of the children’s home world they knew, outside of their state, and into a new environment, that God was able to use these new experiences as a way to speak to these boys hearts unlike ever before. God was breaking down walls and using safe relationships to go deeper and to build them back up again on the truth of who God says they are.

The next day Jonathan was able to surf for the first time on his 18th birthday. He just hung out on the waves and took life in. I could see hope well up inside him. What a gift.

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