Letters from the Forgotten


A few of the women here at New Vision Community Church minister to female prisoners in Nuevo Laredo, a town in Mexico right across the border from here in Laredo, TX. They go there every Saturday morning to share the gospel and to comfort and bring a little joy to a dark and somber place. And although I am unable to cross the border (didn’t bring my passport), my girls and I were still able to take part in this very important ministry.

My father, the pastor, asked me if I would help respond to letters some of these women had written. I volunteered to do six and in my typical father fashion, he left me eleven to write. As I opened each letter and peeked into each woman’s soul, my heart ached for them. These were all women that had come to accept Jesus Christ in prison. They had experienced liberty in repenting, but they were still bound by their circumstances. They will have to finish their time served before they could be free from their jail cell.

Each woman had a different story to tell. Some just needed to vent, others desperately asked for prayers so that they could return to their families, their children. One insisted she was innocent, others admitted that they were guilty and asked God for help in becoming better people. While being on the outside, it is easy to look at these women and judge. Only God knows if they are truly repentant, but I am convinced that the abuse, the loneliness, the rejection, the extreme poverty many of these women endured played a significant role in propelling them to their current situation.

My girls coloring verse pictures for the prisoners.

Regardless of our feelings about why these women are there, Jesus has instructed us Christians to minister to those in prison (Matthew 25) and I was thankful to be part of it. These are women, that in many ways, have been forgotten by society and even by the church. I have to admit that at first it felt a little overwhelming, especially since I had already committed myself to helping in other ways and I don’t like writing letters by hand. But after reading each of the women’s letter, I felt compelled to respond. And since being here is suppose to help teach our entire family the importance of service, I asked my ten-year-old and five-year-old to help me. I had them color scripture cards to accompany my letters.

The letters and cards were done and we turned them in. A few days later, the woman in charge of the prison ministry thanked me and told me what an amazing blessing it had been to the women. They were overjoyed to have received letters and were able to take them back to their cells. I have to admit that I felt a little guilty that I first saw this important task as just another chore, but I am glad that I followed through with it. I do hope and pray that with God’s help, I was able to write the words that would help them in their spiritual journey.

I may have a chance to write a few more letters with the remaining weeks I have in Laredo and after I leave, I will go back to PA and continue doing the things that I do. However, there will be two women here in Laredo that will diligently make their way across the border every Saturday to minister to new and old souls. I am thankful for their service and their example of Christ’s love.

 

Thank God for Family and Friends

When my husband told me that he would be going to Japan for six months, I knew I wanted to spend time with family.  As I sit here now on the train, on my way back home from my two month excursion, I am very thankful.  Family is what made these last few months wonderful and bearable.  It isn’t easy when your better-half gets sent half way across the globe and you are left to deal with everything on your own.  I am not complaining.  On the contrary, I am thankful to everyone that made my life that much easier for the first part of his deployment.


Thanks to my mom and dad who drove all the way to Pennsylvania from Texas to pick us up with all of our gear.  The trip to Laredo was nothing less than adventurous and I will forever have those memories of our 25+ hour drive.  And if driving with a 16-month-old was not difficult enough, they decided to do it all over again and drive us to Florida.  



Thanks to my sister for embarking on the first leg of this adventure with us and my niece for keeping my daughter company during that long drive.  

Thanks to my neighbors and my “daughter” Rosita who kept an eye out on my house while I was away.  I know they were ever vigilant and looked out for our best interest.

Thanks for the people at my parents church for their welcoming hugs and for  just making us feel at home.

Thanks to my biological father and his wife for keeping my daughter and her friends entertained at their pool and providing transportation whenever we needed it. 

Thanks to my siblings in Laredo for spending some quality time with my daughter.  Lord knows she needed those bonds to get her mind off how much she misses her daddy.

Thanks to my in-laws for providing a vacation after my “vacation.”  They made it possible for me to just take a few days to relax and do nothing.

Thanks to my sister-in-law for providing moral support while shopping for my six-year-old (you would have to be there to understand) and for introducing my daughters to their “new” aunt and “new” cousins.  

Thanks to my brother-in-law for stepping up to the plate and taking my daughter to Epcot and doing all the things she usually would do with her daddy, including waiting in line for hours just to take a picture with a Disney character.   

Please enjoy some of my favorite photographs from this adventure:

One of our pit stops on our way to Florida.  My youngest daughter enjoying the ocean with a friend. 

My 16-month-old walking the hallways of the church in her sister’s apron.

My daughter making friends with girls from Pueblo Nuevo (at Ein Gedi Ranch), one of the poorest areas in Laredo. 

My daughter in her “uniform” while volunteering at Joseph Store House.

My daughter kayaking with her grandpa during an activity set up for the kids of Pueblo Nuevo for the final day of VBS.   Other than my daughter, none had ever been kayaking before.  

My daughter and my sister with one of the little chicks that in the future will be providing eggs for the Ein Gedi Ranch. 

A pit stop on the way to Laredo—the Schlitterbahn. 

This was taken towards the beginning of our trip, my two daughters with their beloved cousin. 

The final days of our adventure.  Rest and relaxation in Florida. 

Some of my daughter’s best friends in Laredo.  


My dad, the TEXAN :o)

My daughter and cousin in Florida.  Can’t leave Florida without taking a picture with a Gator. 

My youngest daughter enjoying some time with grandma during a break from all of the work.  

My daughters enjoying their other grandma in Florida and their littlest cousin.  



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Teaching Nutrition in Pueblo Nuevo

This past weekend I had the pleasure of teaching a course on basic nutrition. Now, I am not a nutritionist.  I am just a mom who is concerned about health and writes about it on her blog.  It was therefore truly an honor to give the class as part of a conference that was put together for the people of Pueblo Nuevo.


Pueblo Nuevo is a small subdivision outside of Laredo, TX.  In this little community consisting mostly of trailers, nopales (cactus), and a lot of dust, the people are warm and inviting.  They are mostly of Mexican descent and their diet includes white rice, tortillas, and beef.  Their means are limited and their budgets are very tight.  So as you can imagine, I was a little nervous about how receptive they would be on a talk that condemns white bread, white rice, and some other foods that are a part of their daily diet.

And yet, they surprised me.  Some were furiously taking notes.  Others approached me after the class with questions.  Despite my terrible Spanish, the message seemed to get through.  And I do not believe  it was because of the messenger. I think it was because they were so eager to learn.  They were eager to be healthier and feed their families healthier meals.



But as I looked at this group of amazing women, I was frustrated to know that our current food system makes the healthiest food cost prohibitive for people on limited budgets, like those in Pueblo Nuevo.  We subsidize farmers producing bad food while essentially “tax” more responsible farmers.  That makes certain organic and natural products that much more expensive and out of reach for a large part of our population.


One little church is fighting to change that with their philosophy that the doors to preach Christ are opened when you help meet physical needs. Thank you to New Vision Community Church for working to bring healthier food to the people of Pueblo Nuevo in addition to spiritual food.  New Vision is developing programs to teach the residents there how to grow their own pesticide-free produce, and will be making farm fresh eggs available at their ranch, Ein-Gedi  They will also be opening an extension of their Joseph Store House in Pueblo Nuevo so that the residents can have access to heavily discounted organic and gourmet foods.  It is a model I hope other organizations will copy.

The Ein-Gedi Ranch




Learning How to Serve

In her Joseph Store House “uniform.”
One of the things that is very important to me is that my kids have an expanded world view.  I feel lucky to have grown up in one of the poorest countries in the world because it helps me appreciate what I have.  However, many kids here have no idea how privileged and blessed they are.  They throw tantrums because they do not have the latest toys or because they can’t eat what they want, my kids included.  For that reason when my husband said he was going to be deployed to Japan for 6 months, I knew I wanted to spend the better part of the summer helping my parents in their missions in Laredo, TX.

We have been here about two weeks, and I already feel like my daughter is learning so much and is being exposed to a life and world so different than what she is used to.  There are parts of Laredo that are obviously very modern, but some of the areas where we work is a world away from the comfortable life we live in PA.  My daughter is also learning the meaning of service and that life is not always just about playing.  The best part about it is that she is truly enjoying it.

Pricing items at Joseph Store House

Up until now, she has helped pack boxes for victims of a flood.  She volunteers at the Joseph Store House helping stock and price items.  She helps (and plays) at the En Gedi Ranch.  The ranch is located in one of the poorest areas of Laredo where many of the residents live in run-down trailers.  The ranch serves as a community and training center for the residents.

Pueblo Nuevo
My 15-month-old sharing a meal with the kids from Pueblo Nuevo. 

And of course she has made a slew of new friends in just about every area where we work.  But these friends are not like her friends back at home.  They do not have nearly as many toys as she has and do not live in the comfortable conditions that she enjoys.  And yet they are kids just like her who love to laugh, run, play, and just have plain old fun!

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A Servant and His Calling

This following excerpt was written for an email distribution that found its way back to me.  I came to find out that the man this author was speaking about is my dad.  I have learned so much from my dad and I have come to admire him for his service and dedication.

Please also visit their blog to learn more about all that my dad’s church is doing to help Laredo, TX.

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Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. Mark 10:44
About 12 years ago while on a short-term mission trip to Nuevo Laredo Mexico with about 5 other men, we served lunch to about 300 women and children in a vacant lot in that city. We used the shell of an abandoned building as the kitchen and served them on paper plates with plastic forks and cups. Afterwards, one of the guys came to me and pointed out that the empty lot was now strewn with plates, forks and cups. He seemed irritated, and so I started to explain that the people were poor and didn’t know any better – but I was bothered by it as well and it was showing. At that point he interrupted me, telling me that wasn’t his point. He then took me to the other side of the building and told me to look out that door and then asked me to tell him what I saw. It was more vacant lot with garbage everywhere – but one thing was different. One of the men traveling with us, a man we really hardly knew at that time, had a garbage bag in his hand and was all the way in the back of the lot quietly stooping and picking up every piece of trash. He never stopped and he never looked up. He wasn’t doing it to be noticed, he was just quietly still serving the people. We stood and watched in amazement at the simple humility of this guy, realizing that we were in the presence of a ‘great’ man.
That scene will forever be etched in my mind as the first example I had ever witnessed of what it meant to be a true servant of God. Not long after, that man –  a businessman himself from Chicago – received his calling and is now the Pastor of a thriving little church and ministry in Laredo Texas. He has been used to touch the lives of many, many people, and has found fulfillment and happiness like few people I have ever known. He was “playing to an audience of one” that day and with his simple act of service, he was proven ready for a wonderful promotion which is now his life’s calling. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you…..” 1 Peter 5:6
My point is this; Many of us think we know what we want out of life. But much of what we think we want and spend endless hours pursuing turns out being empty when we finally get it. We’re not happy where we are, doing what we are doing, getting paid what we are getting paid. We whine and complain, try to self promote ourselves, or we desperately seek recognition for accomplishments that turn out to be utterly meaningless. We may believe in our head that God has a plan for our lives – but we don’t see anything happening so we get frustrated and we let our faith die a slow death as “nothing”  ever happens.
BUT – we never learned the most important lesson, and one I learned by watching our friend that day. True Christ-like love serves others without any expectation or need to be recognized. Do you love others more than yourself? Are you willing to humble yourself and quietly pick-up the trash carelessly dropped by another person in Nuevo Laredo Mexico – or anywhere else on earth? Are you willing to stoop and wash another’s dirty feet? If not – good luck in finding out God’s plan for your life. You’ll need it, because until you can learn to wear the drab mantle of true humility, as Jesus did when He walked among us, you’ll waste your life chasing after illusions and momentary highs that never seem to satisfy.
BUT – If you can learn to serve others, without needing to be recognized by anyone but the One we truly serve, you will be on the way to finding your calling. I am not saying you’ll end up in another city with a ministry of your own necessarily, but you will find fulfillment and joy like you never expected. Start now, just open your eyes, set aside your pride, and begin to serve others right where you are today. 
Prayer: Lord help me to lead by serving others no matter what their position is – high or low. Use me to touch others for eternity by respecting them and loving them as you do. In that, I trust that you will lead me to my calling. In Jesus name I pray. Amen!

 
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You can also read my other post on why this man has inspired me so much.

A Mother and Her Daughter: Broken Relationship Restored

248011_10150205228170745_2059277_nAs a mom, you want to look at women who will inspire you.  I do not have to look very far because for me that woman is my mom.

Our Torn Relationship
It was not always that way. When I was a teenager, I remember how non-existent my relationship was with my mother.  I was hurting, depressed and when I spoke with her, I felt that she did not understand me.  I had suffered abuse as a child and for years I blamed her for it, for not protecting me.  Even as an adult, I would feel hurt all over again and those old wounds would come back to haunt me and create a barrier between this wonderful woman and myself.  There was just so much baggage between us that I just couldn’t have that daughter-mother relationship so many other women had.

My Change
And then one day, a good friend of mine told me I needed to ask for my mother’s forgiveness. What? Was she kidding me? For what? She was the one that had hurt me, ignored me.  And my friend said that God had told her, I needed to ask for forgiveness for my arrogance.  For thinking that somehow I was better than her, more knowledgeable than her, more Christian-like than her.  Wow!  That hit me like a ton of bricks. Thankfully, I listened and obeyed. I asked her (and my dad) for their forgiveness.  And the walls came tumbling down. All of a sudden I could see what an incredible woman she was.

Her Change
Lucy DeLeon is a woman that rose above a lot of pain, hurt, and abuse.  She was born into a wealthy family in Guatemala, but was neglected and unloved by those whose attention she sought the most.  She was first married at 14 because of an unplanned pregnancy, suffered through divorce, had a child kidnapped, had my brother and I taken away from her, and the list goes on.  And then one day she did what I had done many years later, forgave those that had hurt her the most and put God first and her life changed forever.

Who She is Today
Today, she helps my Dad run a successful Christian ministry in Laredo, TX.  She has helped countless women get through their own pain and abuse.  She has helped poor families get into homes of their own (Bubble Home Project).  She developed a program to teach woman to run their own businesses by baking and sewing.  She is recently working on helping poor families in Laredo learn how to grow their own crops.  Her work is selfless, and she is bold and unafraid. Most important of all for me is that she is a great mom.  She makes the best green pea soup and sweet potato waffles.  She has incredible advice to give and my husband and I seek her wisdom in many areas of our lives.  And I am glad that now I can truly appreciate her for who she is.

Mom,

Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31: 29-31

Happy Birthday Mom!  I love you!  And thank you for all that you have done for me and for others.

Your Daughter

Answering the Call

I have written an article previously about teaching children from an early age how to give.  Giving is such a big part of what I believe is instrumental in keeping a happy home.  For me, kids that know how to give, are happier and more satisfied children.  That is why, on a regular basis, I will be highlighting what I believe to be some worthwhile causes. And a lot of them will be about my parent’s ministry because I am deeply inspired by what they do in Laredo, TX.  I support what they do so much because they focus not on giving a man a fish, but teaching them how to fish. From teaching women to run their own businesses (i.e. making and selling bread at local farmers markets, sewing crafts) to teaching families how to grow their own food to helping people overcome abuse, alcohol, drugs, etc (Read my dad’s story). This is all done through a Christian perspective.

My parents church operates like a megachurch, but in reality, they are a very small church with maybe a couple hundred active members.  My mother is constantly overwhelmed trying to run and organize all their programs.  The woman is unstoppable. They need help and there is one family that has answered that call, the Adams family.  Devonne and Lakeesha Adams have made the decision to move their family to Laredo, TX to become full-time missionaries and help with my parent’s ministry.  Please look at their Website and if you cannot financially support, prayer is most welcome!


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Organic at Dirt Cheap Prices

New Vision Community Church, my parents church, runs a great ministry called the Joseph Storehouse.  It is a little store at the church that sells organic and gourmet foods for a fraction of what it would cost at a regular store.  The proceeds from the store helps fund other ministries run by the Church.
  
           

This ministry is very dear to my heart because it gives an opportunity to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford these types of foods.  I am thankful that financially I am able to buy organic foods, but I also know it takes a big chunk out of my budget.  My grocery bill is probably 2 to 3 times more than what another family would pay for non-organic foods. But that is not true for everyone.
Because they are so expensive, unfortunately organic foods are out of reach to many working class families.  It is hard to pay $6.50 for a an organic gallon of milk when you barely make enough to pay the bills, especially in today’s economic times. 

I truly believe that pesticide free and non-genetically modified foods is what is best for our health.  To know that this type of lifestyle is out of reach for many Americans is very disheartening.  That is why I love the Joseph Storehouse.  They sell organic, gluten-free, gourmet foods for dirt cheap prices.  I am like a little kid at the candy store when I visit Laredo because I know the retail cost of most of these items! The Joseph Storehouse makes these types of foods accessible to people who otherwise may not be able to afford them.  The added benefit is that the proceeds of course also help fund other great ministries.

I truly pray and hope that little Joseph Storehouses could open up in other areas of the United States–to at least make these types of foods accessible to to those that at the moment cannot afford to buy them.

You can follow the Joseph Storehouse on Facebook.  Also, here is a link to a great blog that also talks about this store:  http://quefregados.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/the-joseph-store-house/

And don’t forget to visit them on Facebook and Like their page.

The Joseph Storehouse is located at 3119 N Meadow Drive, Laredo, TX 78040 or call 956-712-0655 for more information. 

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Inspired by my Dad

The Man I Grew Up With
I had a recent conversation with my dad–that is my step dad.  As a child, he was a man that I feared.  I loved him, but it was love with a distance.  And he had his issues.  He was an alcoholic and although his love for me we obvious, I just sometimes really disliked him.    My brother had it worse. My dad was particularly hard on him and it took years for my brother to begin to heal from the wounds my dad had created.  Even I remember asking my mom once for us to leave him but she refused.


A Different Man
Today, he is not the same man.  His mannerisms are the same.  He still has that look when he is upset.  I think he was even annoyed at me recently when he was helping me install a counter top because I was being OCD about the whole thing.  He is definitely not perfect, but the work that he does to help people inspires me.

You see, about 10 years ago my dad left alcohol and became a pastor.  He is not a traditional pastor in a traditional church.  He and my mom left their comfortable life in Palatine, IL and started a church in Laredo, TX.  Even I, who was a Christian 8 years beforemy parents were, thought they were a bit crazy.  Now I realize that they were following God’s plan.  They have both dedicated their lives to helping people and at some point I will write a blog about the great things my mom does, but this one is about my dad.

His Work for God
One of my dad’s role within his church, other than the sermons he does weekly, is to council individuals one on one.  But my dad has been more than just someone that provides great advice to troubled individuals.  No, he has been instrumental in helping people heal their hearts.   For example, he has stopped alcoholics from drinking, drug users from using drugs, men and women that were sexually abused as children to finally heal their pain.  Ultimately it is God that works through my dad to heal the brokenhearted, but my dad has answered the call in a way I have seen few pastors been able to do. I say this because he has helped individuals overcome the bonds that years of counseling would be unable to do.

And these individuals are not just the members of his congregation.  I think most of them are people that he meets throughout the course of his day.  The delivery guy or the manager of a business he frequents.  These are individuals that were not seeking help.  They were just going around their every day routine never suspecting that today they would meet someone  that would show them how God would finally heal their wounds .

My dad’s faith is unwavering.  He isn’t perfect, but he loves God and is bold enough to approach perfect strangers in an attempt to not just give them hope, but tangibly make something special happen to them that day.  And for that, I am proud of him.

My dad is the Pastor at New Vision Community Church in Laredo, TX.

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