Fait, Love and Marriage

Pastor Oscar lives with his family in Tecate

Pastor Oscar lives with his family in Tecate

Fait, Love and Marriage

Some families in my journey stick with me in a profound way. The story of Pastor Oscar and Alicia exemplifies my passion for Amor. See, when I started in Amor, all I knew was that Amor built homes for the poor in Mexico and other places (South Africa and the San Carlos Apache Reservation) which is an incredibly courageous cause on its own. Then I found out that the vision the founders were given extended beyond that and included the Utopia of a world where spiritual physical poverty could be eradicated. It is a dream that I’ve grown to believe myself to be possible. Never before in history of humanity the possibility has been within reach. We got the resources we could have never dream of. The problem might appear to be a giant, but like Gayla Cooper says in her book Disrupted, “[David] looked at Goliath and believed, This giant is so big, I can’t miss!” The problem of poverty can seem overwhelming at times but no matter how big, we can’t miss. Whatever we do makes a difference!

However,  when I ground everything we do in regular basis, it is the lives affected every day by Amor as a movement that make it so important for the lives of all of us who work here.  Love, faith and growth. I hope you enjoy the story of Pastor Oscar and his courageous wife Alicia. 

Broken Hearted

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Unpacking what I see on the field is the most difficult thing of what I do at Amor. While it is not the first time I’ve seen poverty it still gets me. Not the kind of poverty in which people simply can’t afford “nice things” but the kind that submerges them in despair and hopelessness. The kind of poverty that has experienced all kinds of horrors. The kind of poverty that is the result and the cause of the way they live. The kind that nearly has killed all the faith. The kind where you can’t help to question where is God in all of this. God forgive me, I thought I knew, but I had no idea and I know your heart is heavy for your people.

When I talk to our families, I usually get the feeling their stories had been waiting to be told.  Sometimes a question can lead to a confession, a secret of the soul, a pain so big that tears my heart.

Yesterday was particularly difficult for me, among the people I met was a woman victim of sexual abuse by her grandfather, a former gang member with death on the eyes and a tattoo that confirmed it, a group of children abandoned all day by their parents, who are aware of just how poor they are, a child hurting by the divorce of her parents, a single teen mother who wishes she could’ve been a doctor and the guy at the border who lost his limbs in a factory accident.

By the time I reached the border my head was trying to make sense of it all. In every story, there was hope, and I was excited that at least in some way Amor had played a part. Yet, it felt like it was a burden I did not want to carry. What purpose will my writing have? What do I say? How do I say it? I’m so small God, and the problems so huge.

God called me to each one of those families. Picked at random I arrive to an appointment ready for me by the creator of the Universe. My calling is to be a witness to their suffering. Suffering I thought I knew, I’ve seen before, I’ve read before,  but really I can’t  wrap my head around. Because I can’t understand it I haven’t stopped crying.

Yesterday I had company. I’ve described how scary is to ride some of the roads in certain neighborhoods, so I asked someone to go with me and drive me around since I’m a newbie. I’m not sure how much she got out of the stories; we really didn’t talk about them. While we were moving from family to family we were more distracted on how to get from point A to point B without ending on a ditch.

At every home, I’m biting my tongue not to ask the question in my heart, should I ask? Should I ask what’s behind the burnt scars in her hand? Should I ask about his dad? And even when I don’t ask, as I put away my camera, and made them laugh with my silly antics, their eyes will tell me everything. Sometimes, is a please-don’t-leave just yet, sometimes a thank you, every time a kind of strength I know I don’t possess. At that moment all I can offer in return is prayer. Their faces will hunt me long into the night. I could never do it alone. Thank you God for showing me through, thank you for showing me what breaks your heart, thank you for my calling even if I don’t know the outcome.  Thank you.

His Pursuit part 3…

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“How long do I have to wait?”

“It says here three to five minutes.”

“What does two lines mean again?”

Silence.

We ended up taking six tests. For an unmarried 18 year-old few things are scarier than the sight of two lines on a pregnancy test. He laughed (probably from the shock). I went cold, for I had made up my mind. After all, this was the United States and I knew where to find the nearest Planned Parenthood.

I had dreams to pursue. I liked this boy all right, but not enough to give up my entire life plan. Did I?

Life Intertwined 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

 Romans 8:28 (NIV)

As we talked about our “choices,” the phone rang. His mom called to inform him that the baby she was expecting had been diagnosed with Trisomy 18.  Meanwhile, Danny’s sister was also struggling to conceive after a series of miscarriages. The irony upset me .

Their mom was willing to stand behind her baby, despite a high-risk pregnancy and little statistical probabilities for survival, for life’s sake. She was living her faith in Love. I was living life in fear and selfishness. What about MY dreams?

As I’m typing this, my stomach turns inside out as I don’t even want to consider an alternative universe where my boy didn’t exist. He has the biggest heart and a brilliant mind. He is happy, funny and sweet. Everyone who knows him knows what a blessing he is to everyone around him. But more importantly, making the choice that he would live saved my life.

Danny’s youngest sister, Kelly Marie Murdock was born months later. Her short life had the purpose of showing me the meaning of love and sacrifice while giving an opportunity for their mother to witness in my life.

Danny’s youngest sister, Kelly Marie Murdock was born months later. Her short life had the purpose of showing me the meaning of love and sacrifice while giving an opportunity for their mother to witness in my life.

After the call, Danny dropped me home and told me to think about what  I wanted to do next.

The next day he took me to Mt. Helix and proposed in one knee presenting a small heart shaped ring. The gesture meant everything to me, important people had quit on me before. Yet, he didn’t want to run away, or even if he did, he was willing to face any challenge for his baby and me.

He was asking me to change my decision from whether I would have a baby or not to whether I would do it with him by my side. Looking into his eyes I knew he loved me, but I was afraid. I didn’t want to multiply into my mistake by getting married. We had nothing going for us. Even if I was not going to have an abortion, I could go home and raise the baby on my own, or perhaps consider adoption, like my big sister had recommended on the phone.

We were both young; we were going to be parents; we came from very broken homes; we didn’t even have similar views in politics and religion; he was heading to boot camp; I didn’t have a green card; we spoke different languages (although at this point most of our conversations were Franklin free); and the worst and the most painful thing: It meant I would leave my family, my country and everything I knew for good.

Marrying him meant abandoning everything for this man and my unknown child, and giving up the life that I wanted to have for the one we would create. I told him I would think about it.

I Do

In bed at night, the words of God “I will never leave you nor forsake you” echoed in my head. For the first time, I prayed with all my heart: crying, longing for answers, wanting to believe.

Why Trisomy 18?

Why the miscarriage?

Why me?

“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5   (NIV)

Next day I paged Danny 1, 4, 3. (I love you).  He called me. I said a simple “I do.” “Pick you up at 8 to go to church?” he said. “Yes,” I said.

We had guilt written all over our faces, three days have passed since we found out we were going to be parents and we had not told anyone (except for my big sister who kept it a secret). Danny was excited to give the news to his family. I was terrified to call mine back home.

During worship I felt again the warmth and love that I felt during the service at the Baptist church four months ago.

Their pastor began speaking about faith and again I knew the message was directed at me:

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” This verse from Ruth to her mother in Law is a common one read at Christian weddings, yet it was the first time I heard it.

It was a confirmation that God had indeed prompted me to say yes to Danny. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God,” my fears dissipated as He held me in His hands.

For the first time I had the confirmation He was after me, and I wanted to be caught. I invited Him in.

 “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 1:13 (NIV)

 Joy

P.S. His pursuit for my whole self from that moment on became relentless, with the culmination several years later with my surrender. We did start with a tumultuous marriage. From the brink of divorce, he restored us and renewed time and time again our love and commitment to each other. He has been transforming us and I don’t believe He is ever done. In fact in the past two months since I started Journey to Amor he has taken us to new Mountaintops and accompanied us through some very dark valleys of doubt and fear as we take on new challenges and summit our finances and career choices to His will. But in Him we find truth. Only this weekend I received His Joy, an experience that I thought beyond my possibilities and faith. I’m extremely grateful for His unending love and His continuous grace.

This is me, this past weekend at a retreat. Joyful, full of the Holy Spirit. Thankful.

This is me, this past weekend at a retreat. Joyful, full of the Holy Spirit. Thankful.

His Pursuit part 1

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A couple of weeks ago I was prompted to write “my testimony.” When I finished it, I immediately began questioning whether it served any purpose to the goals of this blog, and whether I wanted to get this personal. While my life prior my conversion was not outwardly messy, it was inwardly dark. So I’ve been sitting on my story for a while, but like many things in a faith led life sometimes you just have to obey and let God do the rest. If nothing else for freedom’s sake. So with much love here it is part of my story which I’ve divided it in three installments.  

About 13 years ago I came to United States. I spoke not a coherent word in English and I could barely put the words together to understand anyone trying to communicate with me.

I was living at my step-uncle’s house in Southern California. Although he is a Christian man he felt compelled to take me to a Catholic service on Sundays. Like he put it, I didn’t have to go to his church but I had to go to church. He assumed since I was Mexican, my faith was Catholic.

I never had the heart to tell him not only that I wasn’t a Christian, but also that I wasn’t a believer of any sorts. My heart had been hardened, a learned mechanism of protection from the loneliness, fear and the anger accumulated from my childhood. I became skeptical of anything but things I could see, hear and witness in the physical world. I didn’t need things of the heart or spirit for I had a sound and brilliant mind.

Skepticism was a form of life. Very early on I learned how religion was used to subjugate entire societies. I was an avid reader.  My morality: I believed in personal consequences, a loose understanding of karma, if you will, heaven and hell here on earth. The world, the universe was random chaos, no divine justice or intervention. Religions were lies given by churches, monasteries and mosques around the world to the weak-minded to control them, and I was not going to let anyone, or anything control my life or choose my destiny.

Because I was not ready to have those conversations with my uncle, more out of the fact that I could barely ask for salt at the dinner table, I began attending Catholic services on Sundays and it quickly became my weekly break from the English bombardment at home. It was a time for me to turn off my mind through the predictable movements of Mass, which despite being held in English I could follow: Kneel; stand up; Padre Nuestro (it has the exact same rhythm in both languages); now someone is going to read from the Book that I never put much attention, Credo, line up to eat the ostia (you don’t want to let everyone think you carry an unforgivable sin if you don’t partake), etc..

One Sunday morning, during my cousin’s leave after he graduated from Boot Camp, he invited me to join him with the rest of the family for a service at their Southern Baptist Church. That week I had been feeling particularly lonely and homesick so I decided to join them.

The first thing I noticed was the dozens of cute American “churchy” kids about my age. I joined them to their College group, which it was held in a classroom. It felt like Catechism class all over again, yet instead of stories of mythical gardens, giants and endless repetitions of prayers they were having a conversation in History, Theology and Geography. It went right over my head. I only sat there and smiled, with a little bit of pity for their little minds being brain washed while they felt so academic and important.

Then we went to the main sanctuary where for the first time in my life since I can remember my heart was stirred to be connected to something more, at that moment, God began His relentless pursuit for my heart. (I suspect the pursuit might’ve started long before, but my heart needed to be completely broken until I could let Him in).

My command of English was very limited; the only things I could watch in T.V. were reruns of “Friends” because I knew many of the episodes in Spanish. But during worship, for reasons I could not explain I began crying. Maybe I was tired, but I didn’t feel embarrassed to cry in front of everyone. No one minded. Then the pastor began speaking and I could understand every word. I heard the words as clear as any I have ever heard in my native language. It was freaky, but I figured the sermon was to be understood by the masses so the message had to be a simple one– one that I could understand.

Then I heard “for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6b) No sentence ever spoken before by anyone ever felt that personal. I knew he was speaking about the loneliness I was feeling at that moment. It was directed at me as if preceded by “Fabiola… For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” I can’t explain it: open ears, open heart. It was a promise for things yet to come. Then I felt warmth in my heart, literally like falling in love. 

When the service was over I didn’t share the experience with anyone and I was shocked when in the van on our way home, everyone’s voices became muffled. Their language undecipherable as usual, I wanted to demand them to speak with the speaker’s voice. “Enunciate,” like my uncle repeated it when I tried out his language in my mouth. Staring out of the window His promise “I will never leave you nor forsake you” began circling in my mind. Could it be true that the Creator of the Universe was after me?

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.  

When asking for signs, be ready to move

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Where am I in the Journey to Amor?

Well, on my knees.

Recently I’ve been thinking why is that I was given the instruction to join Amor? I think it’s because I asked: explicitly and boldly. “Where do you need me?”

Some people have come to me and commented that it’s pretty neat that I get to hear God’s voice so clearly. The truth is that it was not always like that. In fact in most of my life,  ( And I mean as a Christian, because I like to think that my life begun when I met Jesus), God had been pretty silent. Truth to be told I had also been pretty silent to Him.

Praying was not my strong suit. Only when things seemed completely out of my control, did I get on my knees and prayed, really prayed. What I mean is that although we regularly prayed at our home, specially during bedtimes. Those prayers usually came from the innocence of my children, we prayed for others, we gave thanks and perhaps ask for healing of a minor boo-boo or the sniffles.

However, when I was out of my comfort zone, I could do nothing else but to give it to God. And every time He responded. So I learned to pray; but also I learned to start moving with each response, and in these instances God has shown up in amazing ways.

Newbreak, our home church, is going through the book Draw the Circle in preparation to Easter. It’s been an amazing time of prayer and faith and it couldn’t come at a better time in my life. One of the things that struck me is that I should work hard as it depended on me, but pray like it depended on God. This means that with my work I show God that I have faith that He will respond. I move, He moves. For His glory.

But the most important aspect of this, is to pray. Many of the prayers that don’t get answered were never utter.

Some times we don’t pray, because it’s an act of faith. We would be hurt if our prayers would meet indifference. But trust me they don’t. Even when we don’t get the response we wanted, He is a Loving God and He is after something greater, for our good: working, mending, changing us, comforting us always. We just need to keep on praying.

Some times we don’t pray, because we “got it.” In which case, the only cure is to step out of our comfort zone. Start pursuing bold and brave dreams that God put there and trust me when you start stretching He’ll show on a big way.

Some times we don’t pray, because we were waiting for the sign and it didn’t come. Here I think more often than not, we received the sign, we quit on praying and forgot all about it, when the answer came later.

Some times we don’t pray, because what we need is so big and our view of God so small that we don’t trust Him.

Either way. Right now, I’m on my knees. I need Him, and trust Him.

My eleven year old son recently shared with me the most beautiful sentiment of faith. While watching Lark Rise to Candleford, a beautiful show about the life in the countryside of England at the turn of the 19th Century, he said he too had struggled with doubt like the character in the show.

When I asked him what he meant, he said he also had prayed for “a sign.”

He had been praying for guitar lessons since his previous teacher told us his schedule no longer worked for him. I didn’t try to get him a new teacher as I saw an opportunity to save some money in the meantime, because I have not been working since September.

My son says that he prayed knowing God would answer. But His answer took a couple of months. Now for a 11 year old boy that’s a very long time. Yet he kept on praying.

Two weeks ago, without knowledge of my son’s prayers, our church’s Youth Program began offering free music lessons to all kids.  That was all the answer he needed. He’s now learning worship music and enjoying his guitar once again.

I’m grateful he shared with me and it became an opportunity to share our insights about prayer. He told me about keeping a journal, like his leader suggested. “The shortest pencil, is longer than the longer memory,” he said. Which it happened to be what I had just read on that day, day 5 of Mark Batterson’s Draw the Circle 40 day prayer challenge.

So, today I’m kneeling, moving through the prayer section of my journey for direction, provision, faith, rest, vision, heart change and Amor. Steadfast trust in God.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2

Can you have faith in the face of fear?

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29 Jesus said, “Come, Peter.”Then Peter left the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. 30 But while Peter was walking on the water, he saw the wind and the waves. He was afraid and began sinking into the water. He shouted, “Lord, save me!”31 Then Jesus caught Peter with his hand. He said, “Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:29-31

Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

 It never fails; doubt and fear are a heavy burden that causes drowning.

It is no wonder fear has been a recent visitor in my life. See, I’m like Peter. Of course it’s easy to follow Jesus in land, but to follow Him in water?

I’ve told you my story about where I’m heading here.

However, at each step my legs wobble and my hands tremble. A couple times (more like a thousand) I’ve questioned how wise is for me to take this path. I’ve told myself that maybe I should’ve been looking for something to secure my family’s future. A career with greater compensation, big benefits or at least job security.

The truth is that fundraising has not been easy for me and didn’t expect it to be.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Perhaps I imagined that the whole situation would resolve itself, keeping me from the inconvenience of becoming “uncomfortable.” Don’t get me wrong I’m eager to start working with Amor and I’m convinced about my calling and their mission.

Yet, my life would have been easier if a big donor would have jumped in and offer to cover my salary for the entire year. Talk about miracles, right?

But I know growth only occurs when you get out of your comfort zone. God is after something else. He knows I’ll need more faith than ever before to carry out His message, to help His people and to stay strong for Him. It feels like a test, but I believe is rather the lesson.

Fundraising is only hard now because it is something I’ve never done. However, as I walk in this path, with each step my legs become sturdier and stronger, remembering what they’ve done and what they can do through Him.

When my faith sees itself tested. I draw strength from past experiences. One day this experience will too serve to show me that faithful work has its recompense. One day soon I hope, I’ll be telling you from the offices of Amor that all is well and you too should consider stepping out into the water and join us in a mission trip.

Today don’t fault me for doubting; these are my first steps out of the boat.