Don’t Despise Small Beginnings

coffee cupI have great news! Amor has decided to sponsor me with 50%! Their generosity has overwhelmed me. Some of the funds will have to be diverted from elsewhere including staff support. I was supposed to raise 100% of my salary. All new staff members in new created positions are expected to do so. And I’ve been working towards that end since February.

Last Friday I had a meeting with Gayla  Cooper Congdon,  co-founder of Amor Ministries to discuss  my fundraising strategy .  I was supposed to start working for Amor on March , so she wanted to see how to help me formulate a fundraising strategy to get me on board as soon as possible. Our meeting rather became a heart-to-heart. She introduced me to Amy, a friend of hers from her college years who coordinates family and group camps. We shared about the joys of raising kids and the ministry . She shared with me of how God had met the organization’s needs after the rise of violence in Mexico made them lose HALF their volunteers. It’s not an easy task for any company to survive after losing half their clients, but Amor did.

“Love grows by giving. The love we give aways is the only we keep. The only way to retain love is to give it away.” Elbert Hubbard. 

In one sweep God has taken care of half of my needs. Mark Batterson, writes in his book Draw the Circle, “Like a parent that celebrates a baby’s first step, our heavenly Father rejoices when we take the smallest of steps in the right direction. And those small steps become giant leaps in God’s kingdom. If we do little things, God will do the big things.”

They could’ve simply try to hire somebody more connected, yet they chose to take a chance on me. The feeling that someone believes in your skills, and more importantly in your dreams is overwhelming. For every generous act, whether be words of encouragement, prayer, small or big donations my heart has grown bigger, and my steps gotten lighter

Although I still have to continue raising support for the other half of my salary,  I’ve been encouraged, with my faith restored, I will continue onward until God sees me through.

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”  Zechariah  4:10a.

This is just the beginning. Thank you for being part of the journey.

 “The generous will themselves be blessed for they share their food with the poor.” Proverbs 22:9 NIV.

If you want to join me in this new venture,  you can make donations directly in the website under staff giving and please input my name  Fabiola Johnson in the comment section.https://www.amor.org/give/staff

All your donations are tax deductible.

If you want to read more about the work of Amor, please visit https://www.amor.org/about and subscribe to this blog as I continue my journey to Amor.  

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Extreme heart/home Makeover 2007

2007 Amor trip, Danny and Chuck

2007 Amor trip, Danny and Chuck

The trip across the border was swift. My group consisted on a pretty diverse group of young and old people, married and single. We all had different reasons to be there. My reason: I thought it would be “cool” to help build a home for needy families, and I thought it could also be a good bonding time with my husband. My husband’s uncle also decided to come with us, as a baby Christian he was the probably the most excited of the bunch, taking the words of Jesus in Matthew 2534-36 very seriously.

 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me.”

I remember I had my reservations about the ministry. I was not mature in my faith and was suspicious of any charity/evangelic effort. It felt cruel to swing bread in the face of starving people if they chose to follow Jesus. For the record, this is not at all how Armor works, but that’s how I imagine it.

As the token Mexican of the group I also didn’t want to be associated with the Mexicans, we were there to help. Not everyone in Mexico lives like that I wanted to tell them. While for Americans populations are broken into races and countries of origin, in Mexico it’s a class system whether most of us would admit it or not. Even though I was there to help I had a hidden sense of superiority and broken ideas of what it meant to be poor.

Tijuana-Tecate region

Tijuana-Tecate region

By the time, we arrived at the colloquially named Dump City in the Canyon between the old road Tecate-Tijuana, the lively conversations of dozens of short-temp missionaries stopped. We all simply stared at the desolation outside our window. It was incredible to think that less than an hour away from the comforts of home, plasmas TV, manicured lawns, shopping malls and the land of opportunity, a group of people survived off the trash collected from the old municipal Tijuana Landfill.

Because we were a one-day building team, as opposed to seasonal campers we were assigned to give the finishing touches to two homes. In the first one, we would pick up some tools and finish up with the cleaning efforts and in the second home we would stucco the outside walls.

We were there to do extreme home-makeovers, but I didn’t count on a heart-makeover, much more impressive than the homes built.

It was easy for me to judge poor families. I couldn’t comprehend why if they were so poor would they keep having so many children. Why would they not choose something better for themselves? In every child I was seeing the same repeated story: Children continually born under the same or worse circumstances than their predecessors, with no fault of their own destined to poverty.

One of the staff members at Amor shared with me that the original mission for Amor was to help children who ended up in orphanages after their parents could not look after them. However, the founders decided that empowering families and helping them stay together by building homes, the family could use their own resources to send their kids to school, they would get sick less often. In short, families that stayed together, grew together.

A group of girls gather to get their picture taken

A group of girls gathers to get their picture taken

At the first home, on a strip of land below the dump. I heard the testimony of a man who quit drinking after his wife began praying for him. He also had gotten a job and was sending his two daughters to school. The trash collected around the house was part of his livelihood as he would sell at a recycling plant nearby. He was very thankful that he not only had a roof over his head but a concrete floor on the ground for his loved ones.

Before Amor, his house did not have running water or indoor plumbing. During the rainy season, the dirt roads turned into mud rivers that would wash into the house. Many homes in the area were still shift made homes built with discarded pieces of wood and plastic and roof tarps. We could still see many of those homes. How would anyone be able to raise above that on their own?

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  2 Corinthians 5:17

The two girls in the center were getting their own bedroom

The two girls in the center were getting their own bedroom

By mid-morning my heart had begun changing. I started seeing the children as my own. Despite language barriers with some other members of the team, they also managed to share their love and gratitude. We were thankful, for the experience had not only taught us to appreciate what we had back home, but we were witnessing resilience that is born into the human spirit when shown love.

Poverty turns out is as physical as spiritual.

During the building process, all the work is done by hand. At Amor, volunteers don’t use power-tools to be more inclusive. Which it meant I was not above mixing concrete. I discovered it’s really hard work. I have much more appreciation to construction workers all over the world. No day at the gym has ever felt that good. I didn’t know I had it me, but that’s part of the incredible experience.

Towards the end of the day, I knew I wanted to be back, but life got in the way. Nevertheless, a seed was planted that took six years to sprout.

UPDATE: Since that trip, the old Landfill of Tijuana closed. Many families lost their incomes, while some found jobs in the maquiladoras, the area is still in dire need.

11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:11 (ESV)

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=xrDRnwjZah0

1 (ESV

If you want to learn more about the work of Amor in Mexico visit http://www.amor.org/trips/locations/mexico

If you want to support my work with the organization,  please visit  https://www.amor.org/give/staff. Input my name in the comment box Fabiola Johnson. All donations are tax deductible.

God Size Dream

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

Ever since I was a kid I knew I wanted to be a writer. On sixth grade this dream was fed by a little bit of competition with one of my best friends and academic rival: Monica. By the time we were in Jr. High we even made a bet of who would win a Nobel Price or a Pulitzer. We were very young and naïve; But profoundly in love with Spanish literature.

We went to different high-schools and it was during this time that our dreams changed. I was to be a lawyer. It happened gradually as I began reading Plato and I found out I enjoyed the pursuit of truth and justice and crafting arguments. I still wanted to write, but also to be able to earn a living and keep my independence as a single woman.

At the end of high-school, I was admitted to law school and not just any law school, but to La Escuela Libre de Derecho, one of the most prestigious schools in Mexico. Still, at 17 I began having second thoughts, I was going through inside turmoil and insecurities of an adolescent carrying scars of a broken childhood. I didn’t feel prepared to take that new step. I was spinning without real direction.

My step-dad  and my mother encouraged me to spend a year with their relatives in United States. The plan was for me to learn English, and then return with a clearer vision of what I would do next. School would wait for me, while my acceptance letter guaranteed me a Visa.

 God is the Composer. Your life is His musical score. God is the Artist.

Your life is His canvas. God is the Architect. Your life is His blueprint. God is the Writer. You are His book.  Mark Batterson, Draw the Circle

 That trip altered forever the course of the life I had planned for my self.

It was in the United States that I became a Christian. Despite growing up with a Catholic background, I was a unapologetic agnostic veering towards full-on atheist. And it wasn’t that people didn’t share their faith with me before; my best friend is Christian and she tried (although she mostly focused on Catholic to Christian conversion when I wasn’t interested in either option). I believe I couldn’t hear because my ears were clogged with hate and resentment. I sensed that if I had survived  for so long,  it was up to me to make things better for myself. I wanted to believe I was intelligent enough and capable enough to work through whatever was sent my way and the idea of God seemed like a superstition that would only get on my way.

But Jesus pursued me, found me and changed me.  He created in me new dreams and new hopes.

I’ll share my testimony with more detail another time. Probably is worth noting I never went back to live in Mexico and I also didn’t ended up studying Law.

When I enrolled for the first time in College in the United States I had to take many English classes, only to be able to start taking College level classes. I still remember with amusement the face of my counselor when I said I wanted to major in Journalism. His job was to tell me that it was a really bad idea; perhaps I would be more interested in a Chicano Studies degree. In order to be admitted into the Journalism program at State, I would need to pass a nearly impossible test.

It wasn’t until the third attempt I passed such test. And kept onward. I graduated with a major in Journalism and a minor in Economics from SDSU– A small feat for many, a gargantuan for me.

After graduation I remember telling God, well thank you, I got it from here. At the same time He told me, give it to me. I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to understand. But a seed was planted that would take three years to germinate.

Like I’ve said before, I love journalism. It’s at the essence of me. I don’t discard a career in journalism, but for now God has given me a new dream. In retrospect He had been working early on at the heart of who I am, at the core of my talents and as I work to hone and acquire new skills He keeps prompting me. That’s why when the opportunity came with Amor I took it. I knew it was a God dream. And the dream has grown that now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

While I’ve not raised the monetary support I need to work with Amor, some doors have started to open up in that regard, and I pray more people decide to partner with me and believe in my calling within the organization.

In the meantime I am writing, again. For now even if the only story I have to share it’s mine, I’m writing. With each word my writing becomes more coherent, more full of faith. I’m discovering the voice He gave me, to use for the job He has ahead for me.

And I no longer want to be independent. I like living in interdependence with my husband, family and friends and to be completely dependent in Him.

As for Monica, she studied computer science and has written in the sidelines, poems, and short stories. She’s a mom of a beautiful daughter and has created a beautiful family and I’m sure in her way she’s living her dreams.

Happy Women’s Day!

Happy Women’s Day! In God I find freedom to become the woman He created me to be.

I just wanted to share the song that for me best describes what today is all about.

It was originally written in behalf of women, victims of domestic violence. However, women around the world and across ages, religions and cultures have been in physical and emotional chains that prevented their light shine bright.

Today we remember the women and men who have fought for women’s freedoms. Today we celebrate women and say that it’s not only acceptable to be a woman, but it’s a gift for humanity when women are all they are meant to become.

My life is full of great examples of the warrior that is a woman, and of men who love them. Thank you, for the path in front of me is full of possibilities.

Ella, Bebe

She is tired of throwing the towel

She removes from herself the spider webs

She hasn’t sleep tonight, though she’s not tired

She hasn’t look at her image in the mirror, yet she feels gorgeous

Today, she has colored her eyelashes

Today, she likes her smile, she doesn’t feel a stranger

Today, she dreams what she wishes without worry

Today, she’s a woman that knows her own soul
Today, you’ll know the world is all yours,

That no one can harm you; no one can hurt you.

Today, you’ll understand,

Slamming a door can break up fear.

Today, you will make someone laugh,

Because your eyes have grown tired of crying,

Today, you’ll manage to laugh at yourself and see how much you’ve accomplished.

Today, you’ll be the woman

You wish to be.

Today, you’ll love yourself

Like no one knew how to love

Today, you’ll look forward

Because yesterday already hurt you

A brave woman, a smiling woman

Look how it happens!

Today, a perfect woman is born

She’s broken the rules

She wears high heals to make her steps louder

Today she knows her life will never be a failure again

Today you’ll discover the world is only for you

That no one can hurt you, no one can harm you

Today you’ll reach heaven

Without looking down

Today, you are going to be happy

Even when winter is cold and long

Today, you’ll manage

To laugh so much at yourself and everything you’ve accomplished

Kickstart of a new building season at Amor

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As the new building season approaches for Amor, I was invited to their kick-start praying dedication. The theme for this year is Disrupted.

Gayla Cooper, co-founder of Amor, was asked to write a book about the stories from the field. She appropriately called it Disrupted because that’s how it feels to respond a call to service. And it happens all the time whether at the field or at your computer desk, or at the grocery store. She shared with me that getting used to the disruption and acting on it are the secrets of a faith thriving life.

During the celebration I was amazed of the stories of faith, big and small from the pastors from Mexico and the staff of Amor. That’s a really exciting and diverse bunch I’ll be working with.

We had a bilingual worship experience lead by one of the newest members of Amor, a seven foot Mexican with a sweet voice and kind eyes. It’s neat to see even the staff that don’t speak fluent Spanish communicate with those not fluent in English. I might even help as a translator in the future.

Part of the mission of Amor is to empower the local pastors to help with the needs of their communities. Of course building homes is at the core of the mission, but it’s the collaboration with the community that lets them be more effective in transforming lives. Kids who have grown up with the community deciding to pay it forward by working and volunteering with Amor to help those still trapped in poverty.

The highlight of the day was lunch. Alicia, the wife of one of the pastors, is in charge of La Cocina, a makeshift restaurant under a tent in the camp where volunteers stay. In there, miracles are made. I could not believe that she has cooked for up to a 1000 short term missionaries. We ate plenty of carne asada, home made tortillas, guacamole, rice, beans, and nopales salad and a marshmallow dessert. I wish I had  taken pictures (ran out of battery), but really you’ll have to take my word on how delicious and authentically Mexican everything was.

Being at the camp, also made me miss the experience of getting my hands dirty building (rather finishing) homes. I’ll look for pictures and share later, it happened so long ago that they were in my old computer.

Newbreak, my home church, it’s also organizing a building trip in partnership with Amor for May over Memorial Day weekend, in case you would like to get your hands dirty.

Where am I in the journey?

Gratitude and Praise. I’ve got some more donations and God answered prayers, some acts of kindness by strangers and I no longer wear braces.