One of the Boys we Serve

 

I just arrived to serve with Back2Back in September 2015. A few days only went by until the shouts and calls came from the Hope Program boys, they wanted to play soccer and they could hardly wait. Tired and stressed I walk over to our campus soccer area and start playing with the boys. Soccer is kind of a hobby of mine. We are laughing and having fun. You hear whoops and hollers after some one does a cool trick or blows by some one. Then I hear a boy call out, “Flaco, Flaco, aqui, aqui.” (Skinny, skinny, here, here) I thought that was a funny nickname to give to some one. I see Adrian receive the ball out of the air, beat his defender, and then slot home a goal. He runs back and is smiling ear to ear. As I watch him I see some amazing characteristics that are innate in him. He works very hard on defense and offense, the boys listen to him, he treats everyone with respect and dignity, and he leads by example. He does all of this without even knowing it and very little speaking.

So, as we have built the soccer program into a more formalized soccer team called “Los Dos”, we have spoken to the boys about character, integrity, and leading by example. We tell them we are choosing 3 captains to lead this team. A lot will be expected of them. We choose our first two, but we wanted one younger boy to learn from the older captains so he could lead in a better way in the future.

We train once a week and have a bible study right after. The captains meet once a week for an individual based bible study/mentoring. After waiting 3 months I asked our captains whom we should choose for the 3rd captain spot and both emphatically said Adrian. So, after training one day we had the captains announce in front of the group that Adrian was going to be the next captain. They praise him in front of everyone; Adrian leads by example, never complains, is respectful of his teammates, respectful of his coaches, and he lives this out in his Hope Home.

As Adrian was being praised for his continued character you see his face light up. He can’t stop smiling the whole night, even though if you know him that is usual.

You see, God started on His heart at Imperio De Amor (IDA) when he was placed in a children’s home around age 10. He would get into fights all the time. This was his way to protect himself and his self-esteem. He felt the need to fight for his little brothers and take care of them. The fights were constant and nothing ever seemed to calm him down. As we, Back2Back, started our relationship with IDA there was an immediate connection and partnership that worked on Holistic care. The partnership went deep and we came alongside IDA to help in their efforts to bring Jesus into ever facet of life and that includes through counseling.

After many years of loving on Adrian everyone noticed his decreased aggression. He joined Back2Back’s Hope Program and still had a few instances of aggression, but in general his aggression is gone.

Now that Adrian is a captain he meets with me every week to do an in depth bible study, talk about our pasts and pains, talk about what it means to be a man of God, and we ask Jesus to invade our lives. During this time Adrian has completely opened up about his past and struggles. Just this past week I asked him “What made you stop fighting and defending yourself?” He said, (In Spanish) “I found Jesus. We had Bible studies at IDA and I realized that God can defend me better than I can defend myself or others.”

God has been working on Adrian’s heart for a while, healing and restoring, and bringing life to a mad and aggressive young child.

Now Adrian is like a little brother for me and we are very close. He is growing as a man and the rest of the boys look up to him and want to be like him. To show his appreciation to our friendship he asked me if he could draw something for me. I said for sure and he asked what I wanted. I chose a lion because it was the first thing that popped to my head. I thought I would receive a slight sketch, but no, Adrian took his time and drew me something that is very special to me. For me this lion resembles the fierceness of God’s love for us and how God will do anything to get His children back. You see Adrian realized that this fierce love was much stronger than his own fierceness and so like most of us, he surrendered and continues to surrender to this fierce love.

Adrian now lives with one of his younger brothers in one of our Hope homes and his other younger brother will be living with him this coming August. God has made a way and now they will all be living together in the same Hope Home and his brothers are following in Adrian’s footsteps right towards that Lion of Judah, that fierce love.

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Kairos Moment

Yesterday I was sitting and studying the Bible with Emmanuel (Changed name for the sake of privacy). We were learning about Kairos moments. I explained to Emmanuel that in Greek there are two words for time. Chronos time- continuous time with moments of history. Kairos time- moments of time that are reflected upon from God’s perspective. When looking at life from a Kairos perspective we see most moments as God moments and try and figure out what God is teaching us or wanting us to do. I gave Emmanuel an example of a Kairos moment in my own life and then asked him if he has had any moments recently that he would consider “Kairos moments.” I explained to Emmanuel that God wants us to listen to the Holy Spirit and let Him move through us, to not only make us more like Jesus, but to facilitate God’s love in other people’s lives.

 

I explained to Emmanuel that oftentimes we get feelings in our stomach or we start randomly thinking about someone near us who we do not know, or we have a feeling to approach a friend or stranger about something specific.

Emmanuel looks up at me and says, “Hay mucho” (There are a lot). I sat there surprised, not expecting Emmanuel, at 19 years old, to be fully able to comprehend a Kairos moment or have one ready to share.

 

“I was coming home on the bus the other day. It was just me, a woman and her two kids on the bus that night. As I sat down I got this feeling in my stomach and I started thinking about this woman. I thought to myself that this woman looked like she had nothing. It looked like she had very little money and life was hard. I realized I have $100 pesos (about $6 USD) in my pocket. My first thought is that I need to give this money to this woman who I do not know. I say to myself, ‘Yeah but I need this money for bus rides to school this week.’ But, I immediately thought about all that I have, all that God has given me. I am blessed and I have more than enough. So, I walked up to this woman before I got off the bus and I handed this woman my last pesos and I told her ‘God bless you.’ The next day I went to my boss to find out when I get paid next for work knowing it was days away. But, my boss said I would be paid today.  I also knew that if I were to get paid it was not much, maybe $100-$200 pesos. I had not worked much. But, my boss handed me $500 pesos. I stood there and told him that I had not worked this much. He pulled out his calendar and showed me that I had and I was stunned to see that I had. I honestly believe I did not work that much, but God must have changed it.”

 

I sat there awe struck that this 19 year old young man who grew up on the streets fending for himself and his brothers gave his best, his last. I was amazed that he believes that he is so blessed and has more than enough. I start laughing not expecting at all what I just heard. I tell him how proud of him I am . That this is a Kairos moment and he did what God wanted him to do and God took care of him abundantly more than he had imagined. He said he has many more moments like these. What a gift. I look forward to hearing the other stories and I will share them.

 

You see, our hearts are made to give and love others. Most of our lives we hold it back not knowing. But, when we choose Jesus, Jesus brings freedom. Freedom and power to be able to understand and to know what God truly made us for and the freedom to listen and respond. Little did Emmanuel know that in the week prior to him saying this I had been struggling with giving money to the homeless here in Mexico. You see, people everywhere try to hustle for money on the streets, they try to wash your car at stop lights, try to “help” you park at Wal-Mart, and always ask for money. I have let myself build up a hard heart toward giving to the homeless. Yet through my wife, friends, and now Emmanuel God has been hitting it home in my heart to break down this wall and move to give and to be more generous.

 

Not only did Emmanuel amaze me with his softness of heart with this Kairos moment, but God used him to break down the walls in my own heart. God never ceases to amaze me.

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Mario and His Bible

Remember that garage sale we had while we were still in the States? Well,  Joah wanted to do a lemonade stand to raise money for the kids in Mexico before we left the good ole USA. We have been waiting to find a good reason to use this money. There are many worthy causes here, but we felt we should wait for something close to Joah’s heart. One of the boys we have the privilege to know and mentor, recently told us he has never owned his own new Bible. Here is young man that feels like he has the heart of a pastor and he has never owned his very own, unused Bible. We thought this was a great way to spend this money that Joah raised. So, Mario just received his very first, leather bound, Spanish/English Bible (He is learning English). To say he was overwhelmed is an understatement. He immediately said he needed to get a protective case for it because he likes to take good care of his things. He said this is a very special gift for him and he will cherish it all of his days. So, thank you to everyone who donated to Joah’s lemonade stand and all those who support us with prayers, encouragement, and finances.

P.S. We had a little money left so we used it to take Leo and Mario job hunting. We had to purchase head shots and other supplies. These young men have become like family as we do Bible studies every week with them, mentor them, feed them, and chase after the Lord together.  What a gift.IMG_3808 IMG_5632 IMG_5481

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Now this feels like Christmas

 

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

I was outside grilling chicken. It was a busy day full of preparation and I had just checked everything off a  “honey do list” from my smokin’ hot wife. As I stood at the grill daydreaming of holidays with family I noticed the chicken was becoming a bit over cooked.

I never thought I would miss home very much. Something about not missing what you have until it’s gone. Katie and I have had some hard days being in Mexico during the holiday season –it’s not all sugar plums and rosy cheeks over here. We had a great Christmas as a family, filled with presents, hot chocolate, runny noses, and a couple meltdowns from three sick babies.

For us, the holiday season can be overwhelming, even back in the States. Planning a couple days worth of visiting many different families can be stressful and tiring. We miss that for sure. But, in the hustle and bustle, it’s easier to miss God’s heart for Christmas.

Think about why we give gifts on Christmas. Have you ever truly explained it to your children, family, or friends? Yes, Jesus died for us and God gave the ultimate gift. So, in celebration of Jesus, we give gifts. Oh how we have dumbed down one of the greatest days on this planet. Go ahead and dig deeper, truly allow God to penetrate our materialistic hearts to understand why…why do we do this?

We give gifts, time, life, and love because Jesus wants to create this habit in our lives. We give not just to give. But, we give as a practice of our hearts saying, “Jesus create in my heart, my children’s hearts, and our families hearts, a sacrificial motivation to give our best.”

We want our children to understand that we give, not only because we have been given so much, but also because we want every encounter to facilitate God’s love and speak life into another’s heart.

This attitude can turn a stressful Christmas into a day that reminds us that not only are we giving presents, but time, an arm around some one’s shoulder, a hug, a listening ear. These days, we give our eyes, ears, and hearts to the needs of many. Our hearts begin to say, “Jesus how many people do you want us to welcome in? How can we do this with joy?”

I took the chicken off the grill and walked back inside. My sorrow turned to joy as I saw Mario sitting quietly with our son Elias while he ate dinner. Then Ruby sprinted by me with Joah on her back and Lucas in tow giggling uncontrollably. All of a sudden, Leo jumped out from behind the wall and started throwing fuzzy snowballs. It was all out war. Kevin was in the kitchen mixing Gatorade to perfection and my beautiful wife was creating a home not filled with sorrow…but filled with joy…filled with kindness…filled with God’s love.

In this moment my heart leapt for joy and melted with God’s love. I was reminded of God’s heart. I was reminded of why we NEED Christmas.

God wants our hearts to long for His people to hear the Good News.

God wants our hearts to cry out.”Thank you Father for your gift, now move in us to give so much that it hurts, just as you did!”

Now instead of Christmas being just about our family and our traditions, it is about who we can invite and involve and welcome in to experience God’s love on Christmas.

We invited some of the teens we love over for Christmas dinner and family time. There was a lot of laughter, joy, silly games and the night ended with full bellies and full hearts.

My eyes met my wife’s above the craziness on many occasions during the night and we couldn’t help but smile, “Now this feels like Christmas!”

Our hearts felt at home.

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A Beautiful Disaster

Job 13: 15

“ Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him…”

 

There is this awesome song by Shane & Shane called Though You Slay Me. It is so good. This song portrays how the boys I work with feel. I call it a beautiful disaster.

Imagine sitting there, with your child sitting across from you. After many years battling with drugs, sex, and other hard issues they come to tell you they are so broken that they need Jesus more than anything. You sigh with thankfulness. You can see their pain in their eyes. You can hear the pain in their voice. They begin to tell you how they were once abused  and  abandoned by people they thought loved them. Their heart has become this disastrous mess because of so much trauma. They have run to everything other than to Jesus to numb pain and fill holes in their hearts. Actions directed towards, sex, drugs, and all things bad were attempts to put a bandaid over gaping wounds in their hearts that they did not know they had.

Then….

Something happens….

You see a glimmer….

A glimmer in their eyes…

Their eyes start to fill with life…

Literally in front of your eyes…

You experience the most beautiful thing…

You see life and love entering their hearts…

Then…

And only then…

This disaster becomes beautiful…

God has met them in this mess. He has shown them that what they’re chasing will not fill that void, will not heal pain, but will only make the disaster of their heart ever worse. They are at their depths and in this moment God does His most beautiful work. He invades a heart that will not accept love with a love that cannot be matched. Their heart and everything they thought they were is broken and they experience Life. They are overwhelmed with love.

In this moment you see Jesus doing His best work, bringing His prodigal child from the sludge of pigs to the feast for Kings. He tells this child, “I am proud of you”… “You are so worth it”… “I will do anything for you”… “You are mine”… “I never stopped loving you and never will.”

I get the most incredible opportunity to see this here in Mexico, where we get to be a part of the Lord’s ministry everyday. We work with boys who have come out of impossible places and through relationships with them God invades even the most hardened hearts. He slays them, and then puts them back together in front of our eyes, speaking truth over them, telling them how much He loves them with every drop of Holy Spirit glue. It is in these moments we feel so blessed that God would allow us to see such beauty, and to see His hand at work. It can be so difficult to walk through the disasters of these precious lives and mine, Lord, but WOW do you sustain us with your beautiful glimmers of Life. Thank you, Father.

 

Take some time and watch the Shane and Shane video below. I guarantee it will bring you to tears.

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Joy

Senor Baldamar is a new friend of the Zayner family. He is probably in his late 60’s and cannot speak after suffering multiple seizures and heart attacks. He has severe diabetes and his sugars must be monitored regularly. He has lost most of his teeth. He is also our neighbor.

Our friends Juan and Rosa have been employing him because he wants to be useful and help others. He also needs money for healthy food and water. After hearing he needed work, we invited him over to Casa Zayner. He sweeps, and cleans up leaves and tree branches for us. These tasks often take him awhile, which is no problem for us. Seeing Senor Baldamar is a joy to our hearts. Our boys have embraced him as family.

We are reminded of this scripture, “ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,’” Matthew 25:40.

He can provide very little for us, but we see Jesus when we see him. He communicates with hand gestures and writes short phrases and words on a notepad kept in his back pocket. Every time we see him we make an extra effort to speak life to him. We found out his family neglects and mistreats him, even withholding food and water. You better believe my wife loves feeding this man!

Last week, Senor Baldamar was leaving and Elias and Lucas ran to him to give him big hugs. Senor B smiled with the biggest smile and embraced them as his eyes filled with tears. We love that our boys are growing up loving people without prejudice and loving them deeply even if they have just met. We feel very thankful. Every day we see him, we tell him how thankful we are for him and give him hugs. Senor B may look like the least of these here on this earth, but to our Heavenly Father Senor B is His child and is the most important child in His eyes. I am sure he is rarely embraced with kindness and love where he lives. So we make sure to give him an extra dose and a full belly when he comes to our house.

Seeing our new friend smile is one of the most precious things we have seen. God is good all the time and His grace always abounds. What a gift to get to love His people. What a gift to be able to have such a sweet soul in our lives. We encourage you to reach out to what we may think are the least of these and embrace them. Your heart will jump inside you as you feel God’s longing for them.

 

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Because of Jesus

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Before we moved to Mexico to serve with Back2Back Katie and I prayed a lot. I often found myself trying to make plans and set up what ministry would look like in Mexico even before I arrived. When I was praying with some friends one night before we left I felt an impression from the Lord that I needed to take a step back and  plan nothing. This is against my nature. So, we obeyed and prayed for the Lord to move without us forcing it.

We have been down here for two months now and the time has flown by. Every time our director asks about where we are feeling led to serve, I can only tell him what God is putting me around. Ever since day one, Katie and I have been blessed with a heart for the older boys in our Hope Program. Their ages range from 15-22.

We feel drawn to these young men. We often find one of these boys in our home at least every other day if not every day. God has organically drawn us into relationship and God’s grace is allowing us to go deep with one another.

These guys are becoming a part of our family. Our boys play with them and love them. God is drawing them into relationship with Him through the love of His children.

It is so sweet to see life in their eyes –to see them realize that not only can they not do life by themselves, but they are so worth Jesus dying for them. This realization is one of the most beautiful things I have seen.

Pray for us as we walk through deep wounds, pain, betrayal, abuse, and bondage with them. God is breaking them down in order to put them back together. When something is broken down it is ugly in the beginning, but as it is rebuilt it becomes way more beautiful than it ever was.

It is only because of Jesus that we are able to be used. It is only because of Jesus that we do not get in the way of His healing. And it is only through Jesus that their hearts are drawn to Him. Pray for us through it all. We love you and we love the privilege we have to be His hands and feet.

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Casa Hogar IDA- God is Beautiful

It was so fun working with people from Traders Point Church yesterday. They did an awesome job giving their hearts to the kids at the case hogar. I loved working alongside them. I had so much playing with little Jose today. He wanted to fly around like an airplane and to have piggy back rides. I could feel God’s joy in his Jose’s laugh and smile. Then an 8 year old girl brought me over to see if I could take picture of her withmy mom. They had drawn a flower with chalk on the ground. She asked me if I could bring the picture back with us next time. She also asked if we could bring a Bible with us to give to her. My heart melted and an immediate yes came from my mouth. I love that God is speaking so well into her heart that she wants her own Bible. God is beautiful.
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A Chance Encounter

Being in a new country, trying to learn another language, adapting to a new culture and way of life, and doing this with three young kids can be very stressful and overwhelming. That is how I have felt the first few weeks here in Monterrey, Mexico. My heart knows we are supposed to be here and the sweet ministry moments have been awesome, but some days are challenging.

God reminds me of His grace and shows me nothing is impossible with Him.

The other day I was feeling very overwhelmed. Our family just had gone out to look at playgrounds and because of traffic and a couple other things we didn’t make it to our destination. I was frustrated because I had been wanting to do this for a while. So, when we returned home, I was stressed, overwhelmed, and straight up tired. I told Katie I was going out to buy bananas and just left for a break/ mental checkout. I had 4 places to go:

  • The playground place
  • An ATM
  • The grill place (We would like to have a grill down here since it can be so hot it is good to cook outside)
  • The grocery – (to buy the aforementioned bananas)

When I started the car I felt an urge from the Holy Spirit to start praising God through song. So I turned on music and my soul was refreshed. I felt the stress, cares, and heavy load just start to be lifted off of me. My eyes are tearing up as the Lord is ministering to my heart and soul. I often forget this simple practice of running to my Daddy for rest. He reminds me often though to do it and when I do my batteries get recharged and all is well.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

I am thankful for the Holy Spirit and these urgings. Remember to try and follow these urgings as much as possible. When you do, they become more noticeable and your heart yearns to obey.

Well, stops #1 and #2 were both closed. I was bummed, but was glad to get a mental break and some worship. I hit up #3. Went to the store and that was closed as well. As I was walking to my car I got a glimpse of a cupcake store and decided to walk over to it.

Side note: almost every day, I drive past this awesome new turf soccer field that is being built. On the outside I see a banner that says West Ham United and I have tried to ask people if they know anything about it. Our jovenes need a place to play that is not grass and I want the best for them. This is probably the best field in Monterrey right now and it is only five minutes from us.

I started walking through the plaza to the cupcake store and on the level above me I noticed two men wearing soccer jerseys.  I meet perfectly with them at the bottom of the stairs as I am walking to the cupcake shop and I blurted out, “Hey are you guys British?” Maybe that was a little rude, but I was just excited to see if they spoke English. They said yes and  I come to find out that they are the coaches for West Ham United soccer club at the new field. They told me they have a partnership with the private school who built it and I can come by anytime I want to, to kick around or see what it is all about. We had a great conversation and we are now talking frequently. I went to visit them at the field this week and the field is immaculate with like six goals on it. Joah, Elias, and I got to play soccer one afternoon there and had a blast.

I walked away laughing with such sweet joy. I knew it was my Father who set up this chance encounter in the very busy, very large city of Monterrey. I mean, it is beyond chance for us to be walking at the same place at the same time. Especially, because I felt the need to go to a cupcake shop, which never happens. So, now I have the official IN with the people at that field and they have already asked me for a few of the kids we serve to come and play on their teams. I mean WOW. Just so cool. Glory to God. Listen to that urging. Our Daddy God wants to provide for us even when we do not ask. How cool is it to give a toy to your child that you know they would love and they have never asked for it? That is my favorite time to give something. I don’t think I prayed much, if at all, for this and God was looking down smiling when He chose to set this up.

The great thing about this is that I just heard two of the boys from a children’s home received a full scholarship to play on this club team. So sweet how God works. Through sport these kids will learn so much. I will be right there cheering them on and encouraging them as a big brother would.

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Road Trip Warriors

Well, been a long time coming for me to post about our road trip to Mexico. My brother-in-law, Will, and I (Jed) had some memorable moments.

On Sunday September 20th we left. It was a beautiful day. Our family was commissioned by our awesome church community- Antioch Church of the YMCA in Lebanon, Ohio. I felt ready, able, and excited for this new journey. The week leading up to this point was spent giving and receiving prayer. We were ready.

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Will and I left around 2pm. We brought a soccer ball along to make the drive a little more interesting.

Our goal was to make it to the border in 2 days time. On Google maps it said the trip would take 21 hours, but we were driving a 17 foot U-Haul with our minivan attached on a trailer. So, the normal speed of 70 was not going to work. The first 5 hours we had to drive 60. But, after getting fed up with being passed so much, we decided to push it and get up to 70.

Will drove the next 7 hours. We were going to stop in Memphis, TN. But, in order to make the next day easier we decided to push to Little Rock, Ark. After 11 hours of driving and getting into Little Rock at 2am/ 3am Eastern, we slept until 6am and then got back on the road. We spiced things up by jamming out to music, watching funny YouTube videos and juggling soccer balls at gas stations.

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Then second day we decided to push to San Antonio, even though it would be another 12 hour drive time. Because San Antonio is only 2.5 hours from Laredo, where we needed to be.

We decided to cross the border at Laredo because we were connected with a man (D) who works there. D specializes in “getting stuff across the border at little or no cost” as he explained it to us.  We got to Laredo and we pull up to this warehouse where you can see Mexico about 1 mile away.  Our friends from Back2Back meet us with vans and trailers to help.

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The guys there tell me D is off work that day. I laugh. They call him in and he explains the routine. We unload everything that can fit into my van, a 15-passenger van, and a 10’ X 5’ trailer. The rest we leave with him and as he says, we should get the stuff within 1-2 weeks. This is all done legally by the way. We left our couch, the kids toys, and who knows what in an open semi trailer with strangers.

Next, we return the U-Haul and head to the border. We pass the US border crossing and then go across a bridge and get to the Mexico border crossing. Since we are declaring what we are bringing into the country, we pull off to the right down this narrow road and into this car park area with a lot of people on staff. You have three soldiers with machine guns, three Mexican police officers with firearms and one crazy mean dog, and then other attendants. We pull up and the first thing they tell us to do is take out most of what we just packed and put it on the ground so they can look at it all.

I told my brother at the beginning of the trip that it was my goal to juggle a soccer ball with soldiers at the border. So, he gets the ball out and reminds me about it. We start juggling and then one of the soldiers asked to play. So he joins in, but the police dog was freaking out at us so we stopped.

After we unpacked probably 60% of what was in the vehicles they said that was fine and we waited another 30 minutes until another attendant came over to inspect our stuff. You’re supposed to tell them the value of everything if you had sold it at a garage sale. So, I told them the amount and they said okay and just took 16% of the amount I gave them.

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I paid the fee and then walked out and we realize another inspection has to happen. The Mexican soldiers now have to inspect. So, we motion over to the soldiers and they look at us and just look away. They were doing nothing; they just wanted to show who was in charge. But, it just so happens that the one guy who tried to juggle with us comes over to inspect our stuff. He looks around, pulls out his knife, starts opening boxes, but ultimately 15 minutes later he said we are good to go. He motions for me to come over again and start juggling. I had a USA soccer ball so they thought I played for the USA National Team I think. They asked me to sign the ball and then asked me if they could have the ball.  I was not going to say no to three Mexican soldiers with machine guns even though I loved that ball and my Aunt Linda had given it to Joah as a gift. So, I gave it to them and then figured I would ask for a picture and they were all about it. I was praying all week for favor and a smooth border crossing, because people from Back2Back have been denied crossing into Mexico, have been asked to pay an exorbitant amount of money, and/or have had to take everything out of their vehicles and unpack it all. After about 2 hours we crossed the border and received the stickers for my car to be able to be driven in Mexico. Then we had a three-hour drive to Monterrey in pouring and we were done.

Glory to God  – He saw us through the whole way. We pretty much hit no traffic or issues, everything worked out with “the guy who can get things across the border,” and we had a fairly painless border crossing. We are grateful.

 

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