Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Was it All for Naught?

First let me start by saying that this particular blog posting is written from the viewpoint, opinions and feelings of the writer, me - Sandra; not those of Preston, the founder of the ministry.  You might have noticed that postings have been few and far between during the last year or so.  This was mainly because feelings were ruling me a good deal of the time.  I'm the type of person who wears my feelings on my shirt sleeves.  This would have become apparent in the words I would or would not use or the style of the message in which I was writing.  Everything about myself and my life here would have been revealed and some days it just was not pretty.

Recently I read a post written by a missionary friend who wrote from the gut, no matter how unflattering it may have painted themselves or the work they were doing, it was real and truthful. That day they made a decision to describe what life was really like on the mission field; it wasn't about the feel good stories that most people like to read about and willing to support. 

For all my writings, I wanted my stories to have good fuzzy feelings and happy endings; but life just wasn't like that for us most of the time. When the times were good they were over the top wonderful.  When times were not so good, they wrecked me.   I might feel disappointed, rejected, hurt, anger, confused, ill-equipped, a failure, forgotten, or abandoned.   Some days it was not unusual to have all of them at once. How could anyone write a blog with crazy emotions swirling in their being?   After all, I'm a missionary sent by God and I should have it all together and have all the answers.  Well that works most of the time, but if a person is going through a time of testing or there are outside forces that are ruling or they choose to not let God lead, things will get a little out of whack.  Whatever the circumstances, the thing that matters here is I haven't always portrayed an accurate picture of what our work entailed and what we were most always up against.

In the beginning, we had promised ourselves that we would not get away from the purpose of our ministry, which was education and discipleship.  We would not look to the left or right, because that could surely get us off track. There are plenty of ministries to meet the other needs that are all around.   We would keep our focus straight ahead on education.  Education comes in many dimensions and teaching life skills was certainly part of our original vision.  So, when the boys that had attended our vocational school started showing up on our doorstep because they wanted a different life, we thought this must surely be what we are supposed to do - take them into our home.  
What better way to teach life skills than 24/7 hands on?  

For the first weeks, we experienced a tremendous honeymoon phase.  Everyone was happy, we were having fun and things seemed to be clicking.  So we thought, because boys kept showing up at our door, even after a year there would be a new boy.  We had 15 boys live with us during this time period and as many as 7 at any given time.   There were lots of changes and challenges every minute, every day.   What we didn't plan on was each boy had their own agenda and most of the time it did not match ours.  We took them at their word as each one told us "they wanted a better life, they wanted an opportunity at education and they wanted to change".    The only thing true about this statement is they wanted a better life.  A life lived with us was better than the life they lived in the facilities they once knew or life on the streets.  There was regular meals, clean clothes, a warm bed, and TV.   I don't think they had counted on the chores, the rules and definitely the required education.  Continuing on to the public school system was a must.  Some of the boys had never been to school, some had gone only as far as 2nd, 3rd, 4th years in elementary.

Some boys became vocal about their desire to have a woman take care of them so they didn't need an education.  Some boys had substance abuse problems and other addictions and could not control themselves.  Some boys had the ability to learn "the system" and do just what was required to remain in our home.  They all had one thing in common, they did not have the desire to work at change.  Change required effort and they had too much of a mind set tied to laziness, hopelessness, welfare and lack of respect for authority to want to work at effecting change.  Each and every boy that came to live with us no matter for how long had either stolen from us, manipulated us or lied to us over and over again.  And yet, we loved each one, some more than others and their parting was sometimes very painful.

Several times during the 2 year span, there would be meetings to discuss what we required and expected from each boy.  They were given the opportunity to speak their minds and ask questions.  We then asked them to make a decision as to whether they would remain with the program and abide by the rules and procedures.  It was always a unanimous yes. 

In this last year, we were down to our core group of 4 boys whom we thought were committed to the program we offered.   It wasn't without the usual challenges especially trying to wield ourselves through all the BS (sometimes you just have to call it like it is) to get to the truth and what is real and factual in most all the situations.   These last 4 had learned "the system" well enough that they knew how we operated, knew our weaknesses and level of compassion.  I think they counted on our compassion and love for them to get them through the messes they created for themselves.  What they hadn't counted on was our commitment to raise up Godly young men to want to effect change in themselves, their families, their communities and finally their country. 

We could no longer extend exceptions to them and we announced a policy of zero tolerance.   Disobedience would not be tolerated, poor grades and performance in school was definitely a non-negotiable (can you imagine a 50% in conduct), half-hearted devotion to seeking a relationship with God had to be important to them, and finally lying would almost surely be grounds for dismissal from our program and home.  If this last one seems harsh, I will explain further.

During a family meeting, we had a number of issues to address and lying was one of them. We have come to realize in our time living in Nicaragua that lying is a very accepted practice among the people of this country. What we did not expect was for one of our boys to finally openly agree that everybody does it and why should he be any different.   That was a moment of great awakening for us. He didn't get it!  He didn't get that the whole idea of the program was for him to be different and to not act like the others.  Obviously he didn't get it when we had discipleship education and we talked about God's standards for boys and not just our say so. He didn't get it during the times when we used a particular chapter in the Bible to talk to them about various sins. Several sins are mentioned in one sentence. But there is a whole sentence that follows that is devoted solely to lying.  Lying was a regular topic in discussions throughout his time with us which was almost 2 years.   

It was at that moment that I knew we had done all we could for this boy that I loved like my own child.  He was 19 years old and it was evident that he was determined to live life on his own terms; but this he would have to do away from us.  To tell him that he would have to find alternative living accommodations was one of the hardest things I have had to do. Let me say that this was not the only reason for letting him go, he had violated many rules during his time with us, as well as violating one of the other boys which we we had been working through.  You might say, this realization that we were not helping to bring about real change in this boy's life was a fact that no longer could be ignored.  As much as each boy is important, we can't make the program about one boy.  The education and personal welfare of all the boys as a whole matters greatly.  It's not easy to recognize that the continued process of offering help without expecting change in and responsibility for one's self and actions is only delaying the inevitable - a welfare mentality.

We have one boy left that has shown a desire to change and take advantage of the opportunity presented to him.  It's the 80/20 principle.  We may have to go through 80 people to find the 20 that will work at whatever is required to effect change.  I have plenty of stories, some of them very funny, some of them sad, some of them nightmares about what we have gone through with the boys.  We knew there would be challenges, but I think I was naive to the varying extent and I for one consider myself very ill equipped to handle them.  I have cried buckets over the circumstances and wished I had done more and done things differently.   But, I also know that I need willing participants in order to effect real change.

We came here to work with a generation of boys and young men that most ministries don't want to work with.  The work is difficult and seems almost impossible.  But if we don't do it, who else will help these boys?  I've said it before and it bears repeating, most ministries have programs for the women, little children and this age group of boys has literally been overlooked or forgotten, they are difficult.  We cannot give up on them and we will continue to seek out the "20" and present to them an opportunity of a lifetime, if they are willing to embrace it.

Having said all this, we will continue to pour into the one boy still with us.  At the same time, we will get back to the job of what we were sent here to do - educate.  We had put that aspect of the ministry on hold waiting for the day when we thought things in our home were under control enough to allow us to go back to work.  The boys were a FULL TIME job and they drained us of a lot of energy and time. Because of this, we had nothing left in us to give to what we had been called to do - the vocational education and discipleship of the young men of this horribly impoverished nation.  

There will be more information and announcements forthcoming about the new era that we feel God is leading us and the ministry into.  It is exciting and it is a little scary.  Who are we to take on such a task?  But if we let God lead, anything is possible.  The Bible is full of stories of the people God chose who were not wise and were unimportant in the eyes of society, yet He chose them for His purposes.   I definitely am no one special, I have no skills or special talents. All I have is a heart that wants to love and a desire to please God. So I will go where He sends me and do what He asks of me.  The work is not easy and the hurts are many.  Most of all, the pain of being away from my family is tremendous, it has caused great separation in our relationship with them.   Sometimes the work we have tried to do among the boys here feels as if it is all for naught. However, I've been given an assignment that few have the privilege of undertaking and I want to one day stand before the Lord and hear him say "well done, good and faithful servant".

The pictures I have posted alongside any paragraph do not reflect the behavior of any one particular boy. All the pictures are a way of remembering, lovingly, the boys who have been a part of our lives for a season. We trust the Holy Spirit to water whatever worthy seeds we have sown into their lives and hope for a full harvest one day.   Please keep the boys, our family, us and the ministry in your prayers.