– We may not be able to choose how we die, but we certainly can choose how we live. –
Isn’t hope a beautiful thing? It is as the dawn to a cold night, as the rain to a dry land and as tinder that can spark a fire to flame. In this cold, dark world, it is hope, hope for what we do not see, that gives us breath, gives us life and in fact saves us (Rm.8:24).
With a word, a touch, an act to care, you can plant a seed of hope in the heart of another soul and perhaps turn someone back from falling over the edge of despair.
You start to listen, and then realize you can care. You start with a smile, and then realize you can say something to help someone. You do something small and then realize you can do so much more. You start with a seed, and then realize it has begun to grow and now you are changed forever.
As I have explained in previous blog posts, as well as walking the streets to share the Gospel, my family and I also use music, dance, theater and comedy to communicate the Fathers profound love. Through our performance we weave a message of hope, laughter and forgiveness. This presentation opens so many doors for us and allows us to enter places we normally could not, such as prisons, orphanages, homes for the elderly and people with special needs.
My blog posts always get too long, and I doubt any living soul on earth has ever read the entire thing, but if perhaps a natural disaster hits and you have to shelter in place, and somehow end up with nothing else to do or read, well maybe you’ll get through my blog;) Seriously, the reason I write is to one, keep an account of our travels, and two, maybe something you see or read would inspire you to break from that dangerous thing called, “routine ” and go beyond the borders of familiar into the exciting land of “unknown”.
Isn’t it funny, how when we are kids, we want to grow up as soon as possible, but now that are adults, we sometimes wish we could be a kid again? I remember playing “house” with my sisters when we were little. I would always pretend I was 20. That was like the perfect grown up age. Now 20 has come and gone and I sometimes think how cool it would be to be 8 again when I actually did this thing called, “play”. I used to love winters in Colorado. I remember one day, I was maybe 7, we drove up to Estes Park to see the elk then when we got home my dad pulled my brothers and sisters and I around the house on a sled and we tried to pull him. When our hands got so cold they hurt, we went inside and my mom gave us hot chocolate (or we poured apple juice on snow). That’s one of my favorite memories from being a kid. Do you have a favorite childhood memory? Somewhere you would go back to if you could for a moment?
Did you know that the only part of our body that does not grow, are our eyes? From the time we are a little baby, to now, we have the exact same eyes, a child’s eyes. So no matter what you have been through, or are dealing with you can still “see” like a little child if you choose to.
Jesus said the only way to “See” the Kingdom, is to become a child (Mt.18:3). I love being with children because what you see is what you get, no hidden motive, agenda or image, only sincerity. No matter where you are in life, no matter how old you are or how tragic your past may be; no matter how impossible your situation might seem, you must go back to your past, back to childhood, in order to find a good future. Simplicity will lead to humility, humility will lead to sincerity and sincerity is the only way to seek the Father and find Eternity. A childlike heart is more important than anything in your entire life. I
It is a challenge to do a performance that requires so much energy in this intense heat and there have been times we have gotten bad heat stroke. Once in a prison my dad couldn’t catch his breath and his head was spinning. We had to get him to shade right away and the prisoners got us some cold water. We have been trying to schedule events early before the full heat of the day. For places that are far from where are staying this requires leaving at around 5 in the morning.
On Sundays there is a busy park we go to. Pretty much everyone goes there so it is a great way to reach the whole city. We have had beautiful times performing there and ministering to so many. The down town city center is just packed every week day so we are constantly going out on the streets, both with our music and just to talk with the crowds.
God is far bigger than we can imagine. His thoughts are NOT our thoughts. His ways are NOT our ways. If we think we know anything, we know nothing (2Cor.8:2).
It is our desire to not only talk about the Fathers great love, but to show it through music, laughter and by weaving a message through dance and theater. Thats why besides constantly walking the streets and sharing the Gospel to the multitudes down town, we also use a performance of music and dance that draws large crowds and allows us many opportunities to get invited into places we otherwise could not.
You know how it is, you can only listen to someone talk so long before you kind of zone out, especially when talking about the Gospel in a generation that is full of so many churches (many being complete frauds, especially here) and religions. So by communicating a message through stories, martial arts and magic tricks we are able to keep people interested for hours and sow many seeds in them.
We try to become all things to all men, as Paul says, “…I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible… I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”(1Cor.9:19)
Maybe one thing we do will reach the 20 year old body builder guy who has not given God a second thought. Maybe one thing we say will reach the 60 year old Catholic women who is about to give up because life is so hard. Maybe something we do could reach the middle age business guy who has just been going to church on Sundays but knows God requires more. If we can plant one new thought in someones heart, one thought that turns into an action and brings them to the Father, then all this is worth it.
The prisons here are run very differently then other countries. Brazil has the 4th largest prison population in the world with most prisons being at double the capacity they were built for. The conditions are outrageous and violate human rights. We are praying for Gods divine grace, wisdom and courage to handle what we are going to face and to effectively communicate the hope of the Gospel to these men. We performed at a prison 130km away. It was probably one of the worst things I have seen in my life. The conditions these men are living in are worse then the worse zoo you may have been to. I found myself fighting back tears as I saw the faces of the men and the conditions they have to live in every day. I read an article about a man that had been imprisoned in one of the prisons we go to. He had a similar last name to that of a gang leader and so was falsely convicted and put in prison for 6 years. Eventually his lawyer got him out. A few weeks after his release he was driving and stopped at a military check point. They ran his name and since he had never been cleared in the system, he came up as a wanted man and was rearrested. He was given a 15 year sentence, put in another prison in which he contracted tuberculosis and died. Stories like this are common, many never see a judge and many are lost in a broken system, forgotten of by the world.
At one prison I met a man named Marcos who had been shot in the spinal cord and was paralyzed Imagine not only living in hell, but being in a wheel chair there as well. Another older man I talked to was in tears as he told me he had been in for 7 years and had no idea how much longer he would be there since he has never seen a judge or received a sentence. He said he did not know how long he could make it.
|Raw sewage literally runs down the wall since they have no drainage system. The smell is unbearable. All it would require to fix this is running pipes down, but no one cares enough to do anything. No one cares, so no one thinks. Prisoners are never the priority and all though 20 years ago the government promised to build new facilities and start to fix the process, nothing has been done. We are looking into this particular prison to see if there is anyway we could afford to getting piping for them and fix the problem ourselves. We offered our manual labor to the prison officials and they gratefully excepted so we are going to see what we can do. We have not had any luck getting building materials or funding for this since installing a sewage system, in a prison, 80 miles in the middle of nowhere is not exactly high on peoples list or appealing for a good deed portfolio.|
There was a massive horrible storm that hit while we were there. It destroyed thousands of trees and buildings. The park where we performed (you can see it in the very top picture), looks like king kong walked through it (yes I know king kong is not real:). Every where there are huge thick trees that have been snapped in two. 300,000 people lost power and water. We had to buy drinking water and then fill buckets with rain water to wash and flush the toilet for awhile. The wind was hurricane force and in the center there was certain kind of tornado. We had a prison scheduled one morning but it had flooded so bad that we were not able to get there. Days after the storm no effort had been made by the city to start to clear the roads or get power back. The government has abounded these people and its like because no one cares about them, they have also given up caring. Driving down town there were no crews out working to clear roads. Eventually I saw one man with a machete trying to cut a thick tree so he could clear a road. It is a really tragic situation.
On rainy days or during the weekends when the normal crowded streets are empty, it is really sad and eire to look up and down the sidewalks and see the homeless moving about like phantoms, trying to survive.
We met whole families living under the freeway bridges. Some people have complete “houses” set up under the freeways including pictures put up on the cement and a tv they saved from their house. Because of severe flooding, many were driven out of their homes and just took what they could before they lost it all. I don’t know if I have ever seen a city with so many homeless people living on the streets and I am so grateful to the companies that donated products to help us out. It is an immense privilege to have things to give people in need. A lady that works at a little store on the corner where we live saves any extra bread or fruit and gives it to us before they close at the end of the day. If its not enough we get some rice, beans or hot dogs to give a long with some nice rain ponchos and sanitary items.
I think some of the most beautiful people I have met are homeless and I have become friends with some of those that can always be found in the same spot down town. One guy, whose name is Ronaldo, has no legs due to polio and its really hard for him to move out of the sun, yet he still always has a smile and upbeat attitude. Another man, named Leo, has a teenage son with down syndrome and will yell to me when I am still a block away. He knows I always have something for him and is genuinely grateful for any help or even just a conversation. So many regular people here are below the poverty line and know that they are only a few steps from being on the street. The majority seem to be right at the point of giving up. Its as if they are teetering on the edge of a cliff and we are trying to pull them back. As Jesus said from Isaiah “…He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor..to bind up the broken hearted… to comfort those that mourn…to proclaim freedom fro the prisoners…” Lk.4:18/Is.61
It’s funny, sometimes people ask us with a sense of wonder, “Are you from the 1st world?” Not a question you’d ever expect or something I have ever really thought of, but all they know is the third world and so the first is like something from the movies for them. We are far out in the middle of nowhere. Many people we deal with are grateful to us for coming to them and ask us why we would come way out here. The answer is not “Because we are so concerned” or “Because God told us to”. It is simply the end result of the command “Go…” and “the wind blows…” (Mt.28:19/Jn.3:8). We ended up here as a result of Go…ing by our choice and being blown by the the Spirit of the living Father.
|Out our front door early in the morning. It ended up rising about another foot before the rain stopped.|
(Ps. I apologize for any typos or gramatical mistakes I make in this blog, I just don’t get a lot of time to write and when I do I have to just get it all down quickly. I hope you can bear with me, get past my errors and maybe get something out of what I write. I also realize the layout and alignment are pretty bad and a first grader could probably do a better job, sorry I am not that good on computers and tech stuff.)
|Talking one on one after our presentation.|
|To reach someones heart, meet them at their feet|
A certain prison we have been working in is so far in the middle of nowhere that most of the prisoners never get visitors. The conditions are horrendous. It is considered one of the most dangerous in the region and when we first approached the director, he said there was no way we would be allowed to get in because they could not secure our safety. After a long time of explaining to him what we do, who we are and by the mercy of God, the director finally allowed us to enter.
When we came in with our all our equipment to perform, an entire swat team went in ahead of us with weapons drawn to sweep every area and cell, it was really incredible. God gave us the grace, wisdom and most of all compassion to reach the men. The smell was so terrible because there is no system for the sewage. I know this can seem distant and irrelevant, but try to imagine if your brother, son or father had to deal with that every day. If you or I were born into another life, we could easily make a mistake that would result in us being where they are. No human being should have to live in these conditions, most dog shelters are in better shape. The prisoners looked so weak, thin and sick. Many were holding their heads from the dizzy feeling the mold gives you. A lot of these guys are in here for petty crimes and then once they are in they just disappear in broken “justice system”. My family and I are working in the prison to install pipes for a septic system.
We always want to bring the men a snack or treat of some kind but to get anything in this large of a quantity is expensive. So we came up with the idea of making large batches of pop corn (since its cheep) and bagging it into 300 or 400 bags. It takes a lot of time on a small stove and obviously in the big picture, its nothing in comparison to the immense needs they have but at least for a moment, it really cheers them up. We also give out reading material, Bibles, and inspiring posters as well as care packets to various men. When they are brought down from their cells to the court where we are set up, they have no idea what they are coming to see. When someone greets them with a smile, a bag of pop corn and some cool music, they relax a bit and let their wall down.
Sometimes people say that you can’t really change a life in a short encounter and you would have to be continually working with the same people to make any real difference. But if you look at the life of Jesus, He constantly met with individuals for a short time, sometimes just once and changed them forever. Look at the women at the well (Jn.4), the thief on the cross who exchanged one sentence with Jesus and found eternal life, and so many others. Anyway, its just encouraging to think that even one moment of touching another persons life with the reality of the Gospel, can change their life forever. I know that we leave these men and women with something solid and more lasting than any physical thing we could give them. If you make a sincere effort to reach out and care about another, you just do not know how far that could go to pulling someone back from falling over the edge.
Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve (Mk.10:45). He emptied Himself of the privileges He had as God, and chose to serve wicked selfish men. He met the disciples at their feet, and touched their hearts. How much more should we serve our fellow brothers and sisters and come down in order to bring them up. The only way to effectively communicate the Fathers great love, is to be a servant.
We visited a women’s prison and did multiply performances there. The conditions were better as in cleaner, but the prison was in a city way in the middle of no where and looked like an abandoned warehouse. Again, they never get visitors because they are so far out here and all the women are very sad and depressed. In the pictures above you can see an act we do about soil and seeds. Certain soil is better than other soil for the cultivation of plants. There once was an island that burned to the ground but then from the ashes a vine grew that contained the sweetest grapes ever making a delicious wine. Certain conditions are required for seeds to grow. My brother and I do a type of magic routine while my sister shares about a seed. We use this to show them that even in a difficult situation like prison, they can grow and what seems like hard soil, could prove to be fruitful if they yield, and let their “seed” break (Jn12:24). God uses suffering to break us and draw us closer to Him if we choose to yield, to be humble and to learn from Him.
There are a lot of dogs in the world!!!!!!
Changing subjects a second, want to hear a funny story? Ok, so as I have discussed in past posts, a constant problem in third world countries is trying to get sleep when there are so many dogs all around barking relentlessly into the wee hours of the night. We tend to really only sleep good every other night from pure exhaustion. Its usually the little yappers that drive me nuts, but then there was this real loud deep bark that kept my family and I awake every night. So one day, my dad and brothers waited till the dog got going and then set out to find it and see if by any miracle they could solve the problem.
When everyone around has a dog in their back yard, plus tuns of strays, it is hard to find a specific bark, but when they came to a certain house, they heard the evil barking and the whole block erupted like a rock concert from hell. Ok so problem one solved, found the dog. Now problem two, shut the dog up. They knocked on the owners door and waited as a very old lady, and very tall man came out. The barking was so loud that no one could hear anyone and they were shouting at the top of their lungs. Finally they realized that the man is deaf and the women is almost deaf. She matter of factly informs them that a liter of kittens lives under the porch and keeps the dogs going, a few drunks live across the street who also keep the dogs going, and she considers her yard a refuge for any stray dogs and goes out of her way to find them and take them in and of course, obviously none of the dogs get along. So long story short, if we can find a home for the drunks, round up and find a home for the kittens, build up her fence so the dogs can’t see out to bark at anything going by, and shut down her dog refuge idea, we should be in good shape. Or we could invest in some ear plugs. This probably does not sound that funny written, but if you saw the whole scene and were as tired as we were at midnight, you would have cracked up. Its probably my third funniest dog story. Second being the time in Peru when a guy offered to hire a hit man to take out a certain stray that someone kept feeding outside our window (seriously, he was like, “No, I don’t know who feeds the dog, but I know a guy that knows a guy… that can, you know, take care of it”). And the number one funniest story I wrote about before, also in Peru. We went over to ask a nice lady if she could possibly shut up her not so nice dog. As we walk up to the door, a guy is walking toward us carrying a suitcase, lamp and most of his belongings. He has huge bags under his eyes and is stumbling along exhausted. As he overhears us ask about the dog he shouts out, “THE DOG?! She won’t shut up her dog! She says she will, but she won’t! It barks on and on ALL NIGHT and then, if thats not enough, she has a rooster and the rooster keeps the dog going. I am done..leaving” Well so much for the hope of silence there
We were invited to visit a hospital for children battling cancer. We performed outside for a small group of kids that were able to come out along with their parents and nurses. Afterward we went room to room in the hospital and visited the kids that are bed-ridden with our costumes, puppets and magic. These kids are so precious and some of them have been in the hospital for a long time. One young girl, about 17 was there because her niece has leukemia and she is staying with her. She started weeping in my sisters arms and said that her nephew, (her nieces brother) had just been shot and killed and she did not know how to tell his sister. She needed to be held and comforted and to know that she has a Father who will look after her. It reminded me of Is.61 where he says, “to comfort all who mourn…”
Have you ever seen someone make huge bubbles (like 3 to 5ft)? It is really cool and its also fun to make them. My brother and I are really good at it and kids just love them (well, popping them). If you ever want something cool to do with your family, look online about how to make giant bubbles and you can learn how with stuff you probably have in the house.
It was such a privilege to hold, dance with and love these children and touching to see their sadness slowly turn into a smile then a laugh. I had been able to get a bunch of lightly used stuffed animals donated from thrift stores in the States to bring. I had enough to give each child one and they really meant a lot to them. My brother also designed a coloring book with an inspiring story and a company donated crayons to us so they each got this as well. The parents were so grateful for our words of hope and encouragement and many had tears in their eyes as they thanked us. Afterward when we went room to room, I saw a little boy crying as he got injections and he was tightly hugging a white bear we just gave him. It was the only thing he had in his whole room.