Friday, March 4, 2016

Call unto me and I WILL answer thee...

March 4, 2016

“Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”     Jeremiah 33:3

This verse has come to mind many times over the past several weeks!  Time after time we have sought God and, as always, He has come through and in ways that have made it abundantly clear that we are in His Hands.

Fives weeks ago found me and four other volunteers heading into the Pampas to visit the home of four of our students.  This was the second time I had gone to their house.  It’s about a five hour car ride, then a 5-6 hour hike to their house.  No electricity.  No running water.  No neighbors.  The perfect setting to get away from it all and relax, while outreaching to the family.  The scenery was breathtaking and while I was only able to stay a weekend, it was so worth the trip!  I hiked the whole way in and rode a horse most of the way out.  There is nothing like riding a horse beneath the jungle groves, beside howler monkeys, along side emus and watching alligators sunbath beside the path!  God’s love and creativity is seen everywhere!  It was a blessing indeed!  

The following week was filled with preparations for the arrival of the students, cleaning, completing documents for the Ministry of Education, making extra bed frames, ordering more benches, making sure we have enough desks/tables, etc.  That next weekend was spent camping with some missionaries from our sister school in Guayaramerin, as well as with some of our volunteers and students.  We went to Ixiamas, which is a town about 4 hours from Rurre and hiked about three hours in the jungle.  Absolutely the most beautiful and breathtaking scenery I have seen in all of Bolivia!!  We visited three waterfalls which were the highlight of the trip!  It poured the first night we were there, the river flooded and almost took our tests downstream, so we had to leave earlier than planned, but not before experiencing God’s creation in a new light and enjoying much laughter together.  Unforgettable memories!  

After that trip, we had to hit the ground running because the students were arriving that week.  While my wonderful staff were finishing getting things together and ready on campus, Andrew and I traveled to Santa Cruz in search for a new truck for Familia Feliz.  So we spent three or four days looking at options and trying to do a little more research and fundraising.  We came back to Familia Feliz and four days later, Kevin and I went to Cochabamba to meet a donor and look at trucks there.  Thanks to the generosity of several individuals and families, as well as the blessings of the Lord, I am thrilled to announce that we have a brand new big truck for the school!!  It is a Hyundai H78 and should be arriving to the school within the next week or two!  God is SOOO Good!!  

In the middle of all of this, the kids arrived!  We have 67 kids at the moment…and let me be the first to tell you, those extra 20 this year really make a difference!  I absolutely love our new kids!  They have already made their way into our hearts!  With the increase in numbers, however, I now have 9 boys living with me.  I cannot begin to express how exhausted (physically, mentally and emotionally) I have been during these past three weeks!  I didn’t think it was possible to be more tired than what I was before.  Words of wisdom…never make that statement!  It is possible!  :)  We have had three kids run away….one who has a slight mental disability, another ran away three times and the last time managed to get all the way back to his house in La Paz (and 18-hour bus ride)….still not sure how they let him on the bus without an adult.  Daniella managed to hit herself in the eye/nose with the back of the axe as she was cutting wood…not a fun experience, but no damage other than a black eye and a little blood.  Praise the Lord!   Mari Luz, one of our new volunteers, was cutting grass with the weed eater when a rock popped up and hit her in the leg, making a hole all the way to the bone.  Daniella’s leg also got infected.  Both had to go to the hospital several times.  One of our students was walking under a tree when a branch fell and hit him on the head…head to be stitched up.  Another student was running and looking towards the ground and ran into a piece of lumber that another student was carrying and cut the corner of his eye pretty deep (SO thankful it didn’t put out his eye!  Literally it missed his eye by a hair’s breadth).  Four students have a sore throats, as does one staff member.  Another student was diagnosed with salmonella this morning.  Both trucks have broken down more times than I can count in the last three weeks and are, at this writing, out of commission, so we are having to rely on taxis to get to and from town.  Plumbing has gone out in two houses.  Rainy season has started we think and a couple of houses have flooded, clothes and uniforms won’t dry (we have to line-dry our clothes…impossible to do in the rain!).  The ministry of Education lost our grades for 2015, so that job had to be redone (along with the laborious process of new inscriptions…words cannot express that headache either!)  Kevin got really sick and had to be admitted to the hospital.  The doctors here had conflicting diagnosis, so he and I traveled back to Santa Cruz for better care and lab work (third trip to Santa Cruz in three weeks).  Thank the Lord, it is just a virus and not something more serious like they were thinking.  He is doing much better now, after MUCH prayer on our part, as well as his family, friends and many others all around the world.  We returned from Santa Cruz this past Friday to find Andrew sick.  Turns out he has dengue and had to be hospitalized for two days.  Again, God has heard our prayers and Andrew is doing much better, resting as his body fights off the virus.  But it has been a BUSY and CRAZY three weeks!

Oh!  Did I mention two teenagers killed a retired teacher in town last week and their lawyer tried to send them to Familia Feliz until their sentencing (6 months from now), WITHOUT mentioning that they were being tried for murder??  I still get chills as I think about the way God moved and warned me about the case before accepting the kids.  

A group from Argentina is planning on coming to FF in April to do dentistry work on the kids and community members, as well as possibly replace the roofs of our classrooms and some other odd jobs around campus.  Praise God!!  We are super excited and thankful for their efforts and help.  So we are getting ready for that, trying to get them all the info they need, plan their travel, etc.  

We are also getting ready to receive the orphans and abandoned kids from San Buenaventura, the small town across the river from Rurre.  They have requested that we help them, as they have a large number of kids in difficult situations and no where to send them.  So please pray for those children and for us as we seek to comfort them and meet their needs in these hard times for them.  May the see Christ in us and find in Him the love and family that they have not received up until now.  

And last but certainly not least, the new soldiers have arrived on base and the colonel is already asking when we are going to start our Bible studies!  He went to Familia Feliz this week to personally invite us to continue the studies.  He also informed us that the new soldiers will be doing some operative exercises about 5 miles from FF for a week.  The location they are camping at has no water source, so he asked if we could provide water for them to drink and cook with.  They also need a place to shower everyday.  We told him it would be our pleasure to help!  Did I mention there’s 180 soldiers?!  :)  I stopped by the camp yesterday to check on them and see if they needed anything.  After being introduced to a few of the new officers, the colonel said, “Miguel, we would really like it if you all could come and spend some time with us while we are here and provide the spiritual component we are missing.  Would it be possible for you to come by on Saturday and talk with the soldiers about your faith?”  I was almost speechless!  Of course I happily agreed, but was still trying to process what just happened as I walked back to the truck.  The colonel of the army, who isn’t a practicing Christian, just asked us to share our faith with 180 new soldiers on the sabbath!  

This is what it’s all about.  Serving and sharing God’s love.  We have definitely had our fair share of trials, obstacles, attacks, discouragement, exhaustion, etc. over the few weeks…many would say more than our fair share.  :)  But the blessings that God has poured on us outweigh them a hundred fold!!  He has showed us time and time again that He is taking care of us and has blessed us more than we deserve!  We have seen that in donations that come through, in nature around us, heard it in the voices of our 2016 student body as they sing in worship, and experience it in His still small voice in the midst of the storms.  And I wouldn’t trade it for anything!!

Please continue to lift us up in your prayers.  God is working and doing mighty things…and the enemy isn’t going to sit idly by and watch.  Pray for protection, for our needs to be met (financial, physical, spiritual, etc.) and, most importantly, for lives to the touched and changed by God!


P.S.  I apologize that there are no pictures, but internet is extremely slow today.  :(  

As I drove back to the school with one our students, 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

All Things New...

January 16, 2016

“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.  And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.” Rev.21:5

Happy new year!  I’m sure some of you might think that I’ve been eaten by an anaconda, tarantula or suffered some life-changing accident since I haven’t updated my blog in over 6 months.  But I assure you, that is not the case.  It was just the busiest semester yet at Familia Feliz and free time was a luxury I wasn’t able to afford.  I sincerely apologize to those of you who follow the blog.  But I can tell you that while it was an extremely busy and faith-trying year, it was, hands-down, the most blessed and special one yet!  We serve a MIGHTY God and He has so graciously allowed us to see His Hand work in our behalf more times than we can count!  I will highlight a few points for you:

  • We participated in the annual independence day parade again in Rurre.  This was our 3rd year participating.  However, different from previous years, we were invited to participate in three parades with the army base, as well as in a gymnastics show!  Our kids were the highlight of the parades to many people and we were featured on several local tv stations for many days.  We were also introduced to the general of the Bolivian army and commended for our participation and our presence at the army base. It was a great opportunity to shine for Christ and share our faith.  To God be the glory!
  • We acquired a transfer student from Argentina, officially turning Familia Feliz into an international school.  :)
  • Bible studies continued at the army base, with 60-80 soldiers in attendance every week.  Many hearts were given to Christ as soldiers took their stand for their Saviour!  Words cannot begin to express the joy we feel!
  • We have SEVEN student missionaries from the U.S. this year.  Candace, Courtney, Ashley, Darian, Daniella, Andrew and Kevin have been more of a blessing than they realize and put forth 110% every day to serve the needs of our school, children and community.  We are fortunate to have them and are trying to convince them to extend their stay for….I don’t know…a few years!  :)
  • We had several short term visits from people from the U.S., South Africa, Argentina, and Portugal.
  • We have had more vehicle problems than I care to admit, but through them all God has been faithful and met our transportation needs!  Amen!!
  • We had a serious scare when one of our students cut his foot with the weed eater (not the type of weed eater that uses plastic “string” but the type that uses an 18-inch lawnmower-type blade.  He was cutting grass and hit a piece of wood and the slasher bounced back and cut through two bones and a tendon.  The truck and motorcycle were broken down at the time, so we had to take a taxi to town to take him to the hospital.  This most times means waiting 45-90 minutes for one to pass by.  However, no sooner than the volunteer got to the highway to start waiting did a completely empty taxi show up.  I’m convinced that God sent an angel just for us that day!  Manfred, who had never been to a doctor’s office (much less a hospital) ended up having two surgeries (one to stop the hemorrhaging and another to fix the bones).  But again, God foresaw our need and make provision.  A group of specialists from Spain had just arrived to town to do medical work for the community.  There “just happened” to be a traumatologist and anaesthesiologist the group!  Both surgeries were performed completely free of charge for us!  Tears still start to flow as I remember how God worked so many miracles for us during this time!  Manfred not only didn’t lose a limb or toes, but obtained free specialised care from top physicians from a first-world country and made a full recovery, while giving us multiple opportunities to share God’s goodness and love.  This experience also brought everyone at Familia Feliz even closer together as a family.  It was touching to see the other children reach out to Manfred, make him cards, go visit him, etc.  For a month, no one dared to pray at any time (in class, in church, in devotions, even at the blessing of a meal) without mentioning Manfred and interceding on his behalf to our Heavenly Father.  :)
  • And the highlight of the year, for me at least, every single new student of 2015 that was of age made their decision to give their hearts to Christ and be baptized!!  We had 20 students and 1 staff baptised in 2015!!  All praise and glory be to God for His grace and the work He performed in the lives of each of these individuals!

So much more than this has happened but hopefully these few points will be enough to show God’s blessings on our small school for now.   :)  The greatest blessing, I feel, is to be able to see the change in a child’s life after coming to Familia Feliz.  Some changes are immediately, others appear to be minimal or quite small, but if you knew the child, their history and the sacrifice it took to obtain that change, you would understand the immense joy and happiness we feel as we see these “miracles” take place!  

As we prepare to start a new school year, the verse at the beginning of the entry comes to mind.  Our prayer is that God will do just that…will make all things new.  While I know this verse if referring to the new earth after Christ’s second coming, it is my prayer that that change will begin even know at Familia Feliz and in the hearts of everyone that steps on this campus.  With Christ’s return closer than ever, I long more than ever to be changed to perfectly reflect His character and to have our staff and students experience the same change.  It is for that reason that I solicit your prayers on our behalf more than ever.  Every new year brings its challenges, its trials and other opportunities to demonstrate a perfect trust in our Lord.  Pray that we will embrace these opportunities and allow them to create that character change in us.  At this writing, we have already broken the record of applicants for a given school-year.  I made 150 copies of the application in November and we have distributed them all and still have people coming to request that we accept their child(ren)!  And we still have a month before school starts!  They have come from all over Bolivia to apply.  Pray for wisdom to know which children to accept as boarding students and, specifically, for them as they embark on this new adventure here at Familia Feliz this year.  Pray for our staff (and that the Lord will meet our staffing needs), as I know we will be faced with new situations, new faces that need to see the love of God as never before.  Also pray for our physical needs…finances for food every month, changing thatch roofs to better our student housing and a new truck that will be able to accommodate transporting our students to/from town.  We would also like to begin a riverboat outreach to the many indigenous communities along our river.  We want to be able to teach basic hygiene, Spanish (as most speak their native language) and provide basic first aid and preventive medicine.  For this, we need $15,000 to purchase the boat and motor.  Pray for the Lord to provide this in His time and way so that the families in these communities can be reached with the gospel as well.

In closing, I want to leave you with a photo of two special young men that have applied to be students at Familia Feliz this year.  Their names are Kepler (13 years old) and Jhey (11 years old).  Both are pictured with me below.  They want so badly to attend Familia Feliz that they have asked permission to come and help cut grass, clean our banana field, cook and do whatever else we need.  When I arrived from my visit to the States this past Thursday night, I found them both on campus, helping wherever needed.  As a matter of fact, Jhey’s birthday was yesterday (January 15th).  Jonathan went to take them home (they live just up the road) so that they could be there for Jhey’s birthday.  Upon arriving at their home (where three families live in a two-room house…a total of 15 people!), They quickly ran up to his mother and said that the only thing he wanted for his birthday was to spend it at Familia Feliz and asked permission to return back with Jonatan that night!  The mother agreed and both have been here since.  We made him a cake and had a special celebration for his birthday, but my mind cannot help but wonder what these two brothers have experienced to make them want to come to our boarding school during vacation, and even choosing to spend his birthday with strangers, over staying at home.  Kepler was baptized in November.  Earlier this week, Jonatan made a short video of Kepler, asking him about his recent baptism and why he wanted to study at Familia Feliz.  Jonatan just thought that Kepler had a nice testimony and wanted to share it with others.  But he wasn’t prepared for the response that Kepler gave.  In the interview, he shares how someone started sharing God’s Word with his family and they started studying the Bible.   He is happy that he was able to get to know Christ and obey His commandments.  He says that he doesn’t have a father and wants to be at Familia Feliz because he wants to grow up in a Christian environment where the teachers are nice and teach values.  He says he hasn’t received any love from his father so we wants to receive it at Familia Feliz and, that when we grows up, he wants to be a pastor so that he can share God’s word with others that don’t know Him!  Once again, it simply amazes me at how God works and touches the hearts of even the smallest of children!!

Please keep these two boys in your prayers.  I know that God has a very special plan for them and am extremely happy and honored that we have the privilege for forming a small part in that plan.  How I long for the day when these heart-breaking stories will be no more…no more tears, no more pain, no more broken families!  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Thank you again for your prayers and support!