Guatemala Stories: The Ravine

“All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all”

We had been told about The Ravine. We had been briefed on what we should expect and the few things we should/shouldn’t do while there.

But, words can only go so far; some things have to be seen, touched, smelled, experienced for full impact to occur. The Ravine is one of those things.

Entrance to The Ravine

The Ravine is a garbage dump in Chimaltenango. There are over 50 families there who live and work among the heaps of garbage, hoping to scrape a living out of the waste of others.

Our team traveled there on Friday morning to bring small bags of staple food items and soap to 50 of these families and to pray with them.

Gathering the families...

Their situation seems hopeless. They have been stuck in the cycle of poverty for generations, with seemingly no way out. Each day is the same: work until dark, hoping to find treasures that can be reused/cleaned/recycled and sold to buy food for their families.

“All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all”

Hope is present...

Hope doesn’t seem to exist here at first glance. However, we have seen first-hand that God is indeed redeeming and restoring these people, starting with their precious children. We saw hope in the eyes of each person with whom we prayed and spoke that day. We saw hope in the eyes of their children when we visited them later that day. He is literally taking them from the ashes and making them new, opening doors to a life they never dreamed would be possible. And this is all because of the love of two precious people: Cesar and Carol.

Cesar and Carol decided that they needed to open a school for the children of The Ravine – a school where they could break free from the cycle of poverty and literally change their community forever. That’s how The Ravine School was born only a little more than a year ago – completely out of faith in God. Carol and Cesar did not have a “nest egg” or any riches to speak of, but they believed in a God who redeems, and had faith that He would rescue these children.

There are now 114 children in The Ravine School who are learning to read, write, use computers, and grasp their full potential instead of carrying on the work of their parents and grandparents in the dump with no hope of escape. From a one room building to a beautiful space with classrooms and plenty of light in only a year, God’s redeeming love and faithfulness is abundant in this place.

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

– Gungor’s “Beautiful Things” (lyrics throughout post) is the perfect song for what God is doing at The Ravine…Hear the song here.

The color and lighting are imperfect due to shooting from inside a vehicle (in order to avoid making the families feel uncomfortable), but these images still show how God is continuing to make beautiful things out of bad situations.

Stay tuned for more about The Ravine School and the beautiful things happening there.

Guatemala Stories: The Avocado Lady

I first saw her after our first day of ministry at The Ravine School in Chimaltenango.

She was sitting on a stool with her produce to the left of the school’s entrance. She was beautiful, and she was selling my favorite thing: avocados. With my photographer’s eye, I noted the perfect contrast of her green sweater, the green-blue building, her colorful dress, and the gorgeous avocados in the orange basket. I had to take her picture.

I took a few stealthy shots but they weren’t at an ideal angle. Unfortunately, that’s what happens sometimes when trying to be sneaky.

Avocado Lady

I worked up the courage to ask her if I could take her photo, only to be told “no” by this beautiful lady. I respected her wishes and retreated to the van.

I couldn’t get her out of my mind, and as I talked with the other ladies in the van about her, we came up with a plan for the next day to try to win her over – not solely for the purpose of taking her picture, though. We had something bigger in mind.

I mentioned that I would love to buy some of her avocados, and one of my teammates said, “Why don’t we buy ALL of them?” And the plan was set.

As we prepared to leave the school that day, “Avocado Lady” laughed at us silly Americans because we were so excited about a man with two cows walking down the street. That broke the ice a little. I waved to her as we drove away and she was still smiling at us.

Silly Americans, so easily amused...

When we returned to the school the next day, we were so excited about our plan. Sure enough, as soon as school was finished, she was there with her goods, hoping to sell enough to provide for her family.

We approached her and I asked her, in Spanish, how much each avocado cost. She replied that they were 1 Quetzal each (about $0.13). The three of us had decided to give her $20 for all of them, so I held up the money and told her that we wanted to buy them ALL. Her eyes widened and she smiled as she gladly accepted the money. She put the avocados into my teammate’s backpack with a smile on her face the entire time.

To give perspective, had she sold all of her avocados at the normal price, she would have made $4. Most of the time, these ladies who sell produce don’t sell everything that they prepare (fruit in bags, etc.), and it goes to waste. We paid her $0.75 an avocado (a great price here in Pennsylvania!) in an effort to bless her and provide some extra money for her and her family because we could.

Because $20 isn’t a whole lot of money to most Americans, but to a Guatemalan woman who is working hard for pennies a day, it’s an abundant gift (about 150 Q). It was worth every penny to see the gratitude in her eyes. We didn’t just make an impression on her – there were quite a few children around who kept saying (in Spanish) “$20!” and smiling in wonder at the $20 from the strange American women.

After we bought all of her produce, she agreed to let us take a picture with her.

1898539_10100154516834390_276019840_o

She may not be smiling in this picture, but she was definitely smiling inside.

Hopefully she decided that these crazy Americans weren’t so bad after all.

Hopefully she’ll wonder what we were doing in the school next door. And if her children aren’t already in school, hopefully that will change.

We decided to give some of the avocados to our team’s drivers, and we gave the rest to the orphanage at which we served that afternoon and the next day so that Papa Cesar could make some more of his famous guacamole for the girls, which made this mutual blessing stretch even further.

I can’t think of a better way to spend $20.

Day Twenty-Four: I’m Thankful For…RYFO.

Preface: Last year I decided to express my thanks during the month of November for something new each day, as so many others have done before me. I never finished this series, so that’s my goal this year. I am re-posting the ones I wrote last year and adding new ones. This one is new. :)

I was introduced to RYFO a couple of years ago through a link to this video that a friend posted on Facebook. It immediately grabbed my heart, and I showed it to Brennan (along with this one) as soon as he got home from work that evening. We knew we had to join.

To put it simply, RYFO exists to serve musicians. To serve the voices as “rebranded fans” – seeking to serve and not just to take. It is a network of host homes, services, and resources for touring musicians across the United States. Host homes provide shelter, meals, fellowship, a place to do laundry, and a place to rest.

I have always loved serving people in my own place of residence. I love being able to provide a warm bed for the weary, great food for the hungry, and a place of rest for the weary. So when I saw that there was an opportunity to share the love of Jesus with musicians who are touring, living in their vans, trying to make a humble living, simply by opening up our home, we knew this was perfect for us!

When we began our house search in 2012, one of our biggest motivators was a desire for more space so that we could host bigger bands. Our house provides so much more room for our guests than our tiny apartment did! It is not big, it’s not fancy, but it’s a warm, safe place for road-weary musicians to rest and be fed.

Mouth of the South

Since we became a RYFO Host Home, we have hosted 4 bands (forgot to get a picture of the first one – Ilia) for a total of 20 people. There were several more bands that had intended to stay with us but whose travel plans changed last minute.
Each band has been so unique and has blessed us so much.

Leaders

If you have the gift of hospitality, or a heart for musicians, please consider becoming a RYFO Host Home.
It has richly blessed us as we have given what we have to serve these precious men and women.
If you have any questions about this amazing ministry, please let me know!

Lauren Mann & The Fairly Odd Folk

New Perspective…Part Two.

(See part one here…)

Yesterday, as I was talking with a dear friend about her potential job opportunities (very prestigious and impressive jobs for which she is perfectly suited), all of the above-mentioned things started to run through my head. As I listened to her speak, I realized that I, too, long to be admired for what I can do–for my God-given gifts and abilities, for what I worked so hard to accomplish in college/post-college. I long to be known as someone who “did something” with her life, whatever that even means. I, too, tend to put my value and self-worth in my career, in how people view me, and what I’ve done, which explains so much about why I have felt so miserable in recent jobs. That hasn’t changed since 2001.

But you know what has changed? In the past year, my desire to be a mother (a stay-at-home one, at that) has increased exponentially (considering that I never saw myself doing that, it wasn’t hard for it to increase drastically). I have come to realize that raising children to love Jesus and to be productive members of society is the greatest possible career that I could ever have. What a stark contrast to how I felt even one year ago.

And last night, it became very clear that God has used the circumstances of the past few years to prepare me for being a mom (No, this is not a pregnancy announcement 🙂 ). From what I hear, being a mother is often a “thankless” job as you continuously and often sacrificially serve your children. Someday, they might recognize the amazing job you did to prepare them for life and to take care of them, but humans are naturally born selfish. They aren’t going to say “thanks, mom, for changing my diaper so that I don’t get diaper rash” or “thanks, mom, for staying up all night with me when I was sick”…that’s just how it goes. They don’t care how accomplished you are and they certainly aren’t going to marvel over your talents. Being a mother is going to require humility, sacrifice, unconditional love, and lots of grace…and I know now that I am much better equipped for motherhood because of the circumstances of the past few years.

Much of the past twelve years makes so much sense now. I was in desperate need of humility, and God brought circumstances into my life to teach me how to be humble. I wish I had been a faster learner! Haha. Not that I’m completely humble–definitely not. But, given where I was in 2001, I have come a long way and my perspective has completely changed. I was so unaware of the grip that pride was holding on my life!

I now view the word “rewarding” completely differently. It no longer means being recognized and praised–it means offering recognition and praise expecting nothing in return, all for the benefit of others.

So, now I have something new to embrace, and something hard with which to grapple. God doesn’t want me to be “famous”–He wants me to make disciples, including my own future children.

I need to remind myself constantly that it doesn’t matter what the world thinks of me, and it doesn’t matter if they notice how “awesome” I might happen to be…

What matters is that I live my life according to the Gospel, and that I share it with others at every opportunity.

What matters is that I find ways to use my God-given gifts and talents to further the Kingdom of God, especially within my own household, without doing it selfishly or for recognition.

What matters are the eternal things, not the temporal.

What matters is that my value and self-worth come from God alone and not from anything that I have done or will do.

Book Review: “Radical Together” by David Platt

I started reading this book on a flight to California thinking that I would just read a couple of chapters and finish it later. I finished the book before we even made it to California. I couldn’t stop reading because the message resonated within my heart as being absolutely true! The message within these pages is one that I have experienced on every mission trip (both domestic and overseas)…it is a message that God has been revealing to me through various authors and books over the past couple of years, and I cannot deny the truth behind these words.

“Radical Together” is a companion book to “Radical”, and it contains a message that is so important for every Christian to read and apply to their lives. He writes from experience and uses biblical truth to prove what he suggests throughout the book, and his message is so clear: we are missing what God has called us to do.

The author describes several things that are inhibiting the Church in America from truly making a difference in their communities and in the world–including programs, buildings, and activities. This book points out that good things can get in the way of the BEST things. We become so focused on our programs, on the things that our church offers, that we lose sight of why we are really here on earth–which is to reach the lost and to teach the Gospel to all nations. David Platt writes on page 9, “We must be willing to sacrifice good things in the church in order to experience the great things of God.” He also writes: “The last thing you and I want to do is waste our lives on religious activity that is devoid of spiritual productivity–being active in the church but not advancing the Kingdom of God” (page 8).

I wrote down quote after quote in my journal so that I wouldn’t forget the wisdom contained in these pages. David Platt challenges the American Dream that has woven its way into the church and the way we do ministry here. He gives example after example of how radically life can change when we live biblically. I don’t want to give too much away–this is definitely a book for EVERY Christian to read and to apply to their lives. We are missing out on so much because we choose to live comfortably and because we choose to stay within the walls of the church.

One final quote: “If the spread of the Gospel is dependent upon [programs], we will never reach the ends of the earth. We will never have enough resources, staff, buildings, events, or activities to reach all the people in our community, much less all the peoples in the world. But we will always have enough people. Even if they seem like the wrong people.” (Page 75)

I highly recommend “Radical Together”!

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to post a positive review.

“Finish Year” Goals…

In January 2011, I spent some time pondering what I wanted to accomplish during the coming year. I set a few goals that I successfully accomplished–being intentional about frugality, specific friendships, and a few other things. Intentional was the key word for 2011. And I believe that we succeeded.

Brennan and I were intentional about simplifying our lives in order to be less busy and more effective/efficient. We were fairly successful and found a great joy in living simply. The word “no” is an amazing thing! 🙂

So, for 2012, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to focus on at first…until Jon Acuff, a great author and speaker, issued a challenge to his readers called “Finish Year”. Essentially, he discovered that while he is great at starting things, he never finishes anything, and he challenged us to make a list of things that we want to finish this year. This really resonated with me, and I began thinking/praying through what I want to finish this year. Brennan and I have also set joint-goals of things that we want to finish together.

I am going to try to blog at least once a month with my/our progress for accountability purposes, and in hopes that this will encourage someone else to finish something.

So, here are the things that we are going to finish this year:

Brennan and Lesa:
 
* Finish one book a month minimum
* Finish emergency fund ($1,000)
      –Open new savings account specifically for the emergency fund
* Finish paying off credit cards by December 2012
* Finish using all Groupons/gift certificates
      –print them all out and schedule on calendar as “date nights”
 * Finish protecting important documents by purchasing a “fire safe”

Lesa:
 
* Finish losing 30 pounds and keep it off permanently
* Finish organizing clothes in bedroom (i.e. figure out solution with tiny closet) and keep them organized
* Finish YouVersion Bible reading plan
* Send 60 thank you notes this year (5 per month); finish sending wedding thank you notes (30 left…terrible, I know!)
* Finish purchasing “secret sister” gifts so that I am always prepared (this is a year-long church ministry)
* Finish organizing attic and put everything in plastic containers for protection from mice/temperatures

If I successfully accomplish these goals, I will add more throughout the year…but this is a good place to start. I have many more ideas that I can add!

2012 will be another year of living intentionally. We are going to be forced to become more disciplined in many areas of our lives once we are on a regular Milton Hershey School house-parenting schedule (every other weekend) due to the time commitment that ministry will involve, and I am looking forward to the challenge that will bring. Already, I know that this will mean less mystery shopping and (hopefully) a different work schedule to allow me time to take care of our home and various errands during the week more efficiently.

This year will be another year of continuing to live frugally, as our goal is to have no credit card debt by the end of this year. The task is daunting and will require great discipline, but the freedom that will come from being debt-free makes it all worthwhile! God has abundantly blessed us and continues to provide for all of our needs, and we can’t wait for the freedom to give even more to provide for the needs of others! Gazelle intensity!

I recently read that we can live with the pain of discipline or we can live with the pain of regret, and I’d much rather have the former. With discipline comes peace and joy, and that’s what my heart desires! As the Bible says, discipline isn’t always fun, but in the end it is fruitful.

Most importantly, we want to remain intentional about keeping God at the center of our marriage and our lives, because without Him, we will fail miserably on our own. He alone needs to be our focus and our purpose!

Let “Finish Year” begin! 🙂

Book Review: “Why Men Hate Going to Church”

I am a student of history. One of my top strengths is “context” (StrengthsFinder by Gallup–WELL WORTH your time). The most important lesson I gained in college from all of my history courses was this: Context is key–you need to know the hows/whys/whats of how we got to where we are so that you can ask “what now” and act wisely.

I am also a church leader. I have been in various leadership roles for the past ten+ years. I have seen churches grow and I’ve seen churches decline. There are many good books that I’ve read on the subject of how church should be done, but I have to say that David Murrow’s book “Why Men Hate Going to Church” has made the top ten list.

Mr. Murrow begins by giving a history of church dynamics and specifically looks at the role that men have played over the past few hundred years. It’s hard to argue with his facts: the church has become highly feminized, and it’s a cycle that will keep going until we make church a more “man friendly” environment.  His fascinating historical overview truly helps us see why we have such a mess today when it comes to the decline of a male presence in the church. He doesn’t discriminate between denominations–he acknowledges that they’ve all seen a decline and discusses why. But he does far more than just offer a commentary on the problem: he offers solutions based on research.

One example: he points out several phrases and terms that are NEVER found in the Bible, but we use them all the time to describe what it means to be a Christian. We’ve made it this almost romantic-sounding relationship (i.e. using words like intimate, personal relationship, etc.), when in reality the Gospel is a mission. We are God’s ambassadors, His agents in this world, and we are called to action. We are here for a purpose. Those are the types of things that get men fired up–not mushy worship/talk. Yet, because the churches are typically filled with more women than men, the messages have conformed to the gender-gap, and this isolates men even further.

For church-planters and pastors especially, chapter 13 alone is worth buying the whole book. As I read this chapter (as with many others), I was struck by the truth of his words in terms of how our Kingdom focus has changed so much with the feminine influence in the church. We’ve become far more focused on making church a “family” than a mission-control for the Kingdom work to which we are called. As such, pastors spend so much time dealing with internal conflicts rather than reaching out to our communities who are in need of the Word.

I know that many of my friends who are feminists will likely disagree with much of what this book says…but I have to agree. Changes need to be made, and we need to follow the biblical example that Jesus gave us during His earthly ministry. He reached out to 12 MEN primarily, because He knew that those men would become leaders that both men and women would follow. We need strong male leadership once again in our churches, and this book offers many suggestions that will change the course of your church forever.

This book is worth your time–and keep an open mind…it just might surprise you. 🙂

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”