How do you come home to a place that is over four thousand miles from your home?

Simple. Part of your family lives there!

That's what I felt when we pulled into The Community* on Monday. I was operating on 3 1/2 hours of sleep, 90 minutes of which I had gotten on the bus ride out to The Community. Dead tired with no operating reserve, I immediately was greeted by Gladys, a precious young lady we fell in love with 5 years ago. She has very maternal instincts and had served as a house girl helping with the younger girls for several years.

When the buses arrived, Gladys had sought me out. She was looking for my wife Donna — who couldn't make the trip this year. They have always had a connection that was special.

Gladys gave me a big smile and hug. We talked the best we could with her poor English and my even poorer Spanish. She has grown up so much over the years, but the preciousness and child-like innocence remains. Seeing Gladys, knowing how she is doing, and pointing her in the direction of Jesus is part of what draws me back each year. It was also part of the fuel that got my exhausted body and sleep-deprived brain through our first day.

Seeing Arecelli was the other motivation to get me through the first day. Yes, being with "our" 3-6 year old little girls during chapel was terribly important. Yes, having an opportunity this year to talk to teenagers about committing to Jesus was also part of the passion that fueled my trip this year. Some ties, however, are personal. The connections with these two girls are deeper than logic and defy adequate description.

Arecelli is the living testament to what the community can do in the life of a child. A child of the jungle with dead parents and literally starving to death, Arecelli was ordered to The Community by the courts for her survival. With little or no documentation, her first year was focused on trying to get her well. When we first saw her, she would eat the crumbs off the dirtiest floor. She had very little hair because of malnutrition and sand flea bites on her head. But she had this smile that would melt your heart with a mischievous gleam in her eyes that spoke volumes about the precious, but feisty, little girl in her sick little body.

Over the years, she has been our precious "parakeet" about conditions at The Community. Skinny with little hair, she clung to us both the first year. I will never forget her shrieks and sobbing when we had to say goodbye as her house mom literally had to pull each clenched finger loose from me. Another year she was covered with bites and had a constantly runny nose. Another year saw Arecelli chubby with an attitude — pushy and snotty to smaller kids and a screamer when other kids deprived her of anything. This year she is still in the same casa and she is grown up back to her precious self.

You can still see Arecelli's personality in her smile and those dark eyes of hers. However, this year she knows how to soak up the moments she wants with me, then she enjoys the rest of the activities going on with her casa group. This is because she knows we will be back. Arecelli has made sure she has gotten her quality time with me by stealing a hug, or sitting inside my shadow on the playground, or snuggling close for 45 minutes tucked under my arm during chapel. But she doesn't feel she has to fight off the other little girls or bully them away to receive our love.

We make the trip to Peru, go to the expense of funding it, usually come home sick, and we send enough additional money to feed one child a year because our hearts know no other way. Since we can't adopt these kids and bring them home — and we can't because Donna has spent hours online trying to find a way around the realities — then we do our best to be there for them. They need to know that people who really love Jesus don't run out on kids because it's tough or expensive or messy. So we've committed to be Jesus' presence, boots on the ground and knees in the dirt. They need the Lord's assurance they are loved, and we see it as our job to be that assurance for them. In return, we receive the grace of giving love personally to kids who have so few things that are their own.

You can still see her personality in her smile and those dark eyes.
Years ago, Miguel the leader of The Community, told us that this would be the best week of our life we spent getting sick and catching lice. He was right, except we haven't had lice... yet. True ministry Jesus-style is always incarnational — someone has to go. But those who send and pray and encourage and support are part of the team that makes our "boots on the ground and knees in the dirt" presence possible. So why not join the team?

How you can help:

  1. Support a child for a year with food by sending $400 in total or in part to:
    Sagrada Familia Fund
    Westover Hills Church
    8832 Mesa Dr.
    Austin, TX 78759Make the check payable to Westover Hills Church
    Memo: Sagrada Familia
  2. Support a child in Peru through Compassion International.
  3. Come and go with us. Email for details on the 2015 mid-July trip.

* The Community, or La Comunidad de Los Niños Sagrada Familia as it is officially called, is technically a children's home for orphans, abused kids, and children whose families cannot provide or properly care for them. There are well over 800 of these children. We come each year for a week with the children, with follow-up trips during the year coordinated by Olive Branch Ministries with other groups.