Tears. Hugs. Promises. More tears. Sad eyes.

The last day of our mission to The Community* is always an emotional one. The kids know our week is coming to an end. They know we will have a party. They know they will be saying good bye and that we will leave during the party. They want to know if we will be back.

Children who are new to The Community take the good byes much harder. The new ones are there because of a compelling reason — they have been abandoned by parents or worse. So they come with wounds, uncertainties, distrust, and usually without stable adult relationships. In other words, they haven't had anyone they could trust for anything important. Our week-long visit is a respite — a week of attention, love, play, songs, and hugs wrapped into an experience of "Jesus with skin on." Unfortunately, new kids don't have the experience that helps them trust in that anyone who claims to love them will actually come back to them and be there for them.

I remember my first year leaving the party. Aricelli's shrieks of sadness as I tried to say good bye still haunt me. The chunks of skin she took out of my forearms as they pried her little fingers loose from me didn't hurt nearly as much as hearing the cry of her shattered heart. She was new to The Community. Saved from starvation and who knows what else, she didn't know we would be back. Her experience had taught her not to depend on anyone returning for her. Five years later, everything is different. This year she was all smiles. Yes, she wanted a big hug. Yes, she wanted to be flipped upside down — although that is getting harder since she has gotten bigger. Then with some of the very little English she knows, she asked, "Fio back next year?"

"Yes!" I smiled, "I will be back."

She cut her dark eyes affectionately toward me, smiled warmly, and then said, "Si!"

Then she raised her arms up and said, "Ami, ami, again!" She wanted one more flip and then she was happy. She knew we would be back — that I would be back. She ran off to hug someone else.

Rhythm. Normalcy. Dependability. Trust.

Each of these is a hard-won victory in the lives of kids, newborn to 18 years old. Boys and girls who have had no rhythm, no normalcy, and no dependability in their lives before The Community. Then in The Community, and with their friends who come in Jesus' name, the process begins to take hold and the result is... trust!

Trust — it comes little by little when adults show up, keep their word, and keep on loving.

Trust. For kids trained to be skeptical by life — and had their skepticism reinforced again and again — trust is a hard win. But it comes little by little when adults show up, keep their word, and keep on loving. The staff at The Community bear the brunt of the load to win trust. Yet those of us who come yearly have an important role to play too.

Our dependability, our faithfulness to our promises, and our willingness to keep our word are vital to these children. We must show up, keep our word, and keep on loving them face-to-face. Sending notes and sharing an occasional Facebook® "Like" and comment are not enough. If we didn't know this from experience, we know this truth from Jesus. For God so loved the world he didn't send a note or a book or a comment or a "Like" or an email; God sent his Son. Incarnation. Love with human skin on it. Love that touches you and looks you in the face and holds you when you cry.

Trust happens with this kind of dependable love. As it does, little by little, trust becomes the foundation for building a future. Then more amazing things begin to happen. Some develop a deep hunger for Jesus. They want to know about him. They begin to believe in him. They make a "nose to toes" commitment to follow him. Their faith in Jesus is not something handed down to them, but is rooted in the grace they have received and the glimmers of hope they begin to find in Jesus and his people.

So this year, in the midst of our goodbyes, several of us were blessed to slip off to the nearby ocean. It is winter in Peru and it was a bit chilly. But there on the beach, with a few close friends gathered around in a setting incredibly beautiful, two of these teenagers — a young woman named Elizabeth and young man named Ever — called on Jesus as Lord and were baptized. They join a growing group of teens who are owning their own faith.

Elizabeth is part of the band that was playing at the good bye fiesta. Yet for her, this commitment to Jesus was more important than missing a few songs with the band.

There was no crowd on the beach. There were no special privileges given to her at The Community for doing this. This was a quiet moment of prayer, a reminder from God's Word about why we came to the beach, and commitment filled with deep faith. Elizabeth believed that what Jesus had done two thousand years ago was now happening with her because of her faith.

Ever's commitment was equally as passionate. He wants everyone to know that he loves Jesus, believes in Jesus with all his heart, and wants to follow Jesus all his life. He wants to be a man of God, raise a godly family, and provide a new future based on his passionate faith for future generations. Ever wants to live the four generation commitment that is Kingdom DNA (2 Timothy 2:1-2). So it would begin here, in the cold water, on a beautiful beach about an hour north of Lima.

People ask me each year why do we go. As we near the end of our overnight flight back, several in our group are really ill and all of us are tired. Each has sacrificed financially and interrupted important things going on in his or her family and in her or his professional schedule to be there. Our answer is still very simple. We go because God's love is always incarnational — it shows up, keeps its word, and keeps on loving over time after time. You don't call that sacrifice; you call it getting to share in the blessings of God's Kingdom. We are not content to simply pray, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." We want to be a part of bringing that Kingdom to those who most need its grace!

I will think of these children often over the coming year. I will pray for them frequently. I will look for them on Facebook® and do my best to show up, keep my word, and keep on loving these precious kids face-to-face next year. For God so loves these kids that he didn't send a note or a book or a comment or a "Like" or an email; God is sending me to be his incarnation of grace.

* 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.

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 phil@heartlight.org for details on the 2015 mid-July trip.