We recently returned from a 12 day visit to Mazatlan. If you prayed for this trip, THANK YOU! We truly felt the prayer coverage. The Lord taught us so much during our trip, and we are just beyond grateful for the opportunity we had to go back, as well as allow our girls to experience Mexico! The first week, we spent a ton of time with the staff. We had dinner with each staff family individually and also with the entire staff several times. We got to know each family’s story and how God had brought them to Mazatlan. It was a great time for us to ask questions and get a clearer idea of what life looks like in Mazatlan. Grant and I were also able to visit the three children’s homes with our girls. Ezra and Evie started playing right away and looked right at home. It was neat to see that there is no language barrier when it comes to kids playing together. We visited the beach a few times, too, as it was just a short walk away from the Team House. The Team House is where groups stay when they come to Mazatlan for short-term mission trips. The Mazatlan site director and his family, along with the other staff/families all live in the same neighborhood, within walking distance. The executive directors of Back2Back, Todd & Beth Guckenberger and their family stayed in the Team House with us for a few days, too, and it was awesome getting to know them. The Lord met us in some cool ways while we were in Mazatlan. I’ll share just two. This past July, a former Mason student of mine sent me a message on Facebook. She had read this blog and knew we were struggling a great deal with fostering. She shared a story with me that greatly impacted my life. In November, while in a quiet time on our first trip to Mazatlan, the Lord brought this story back and again used it to encourage me. Two Sundays ago, Beth Guckenberger was speaking at our church service held at the site director’s home in Mazatlan. A few minutes into the service, Evie was crying so I left the room and missed the rest of the message. I felt pretty sorry for myself all day, as I was really looking forward to church. That evening, Beth spoke again. This time, Grant took care of Evie so I could stay. Guess what story she shared? I literally almost fell out of my chair, as Beth began to describe the exact same story that my student had sent me nine months earlier. Beth had taken a trip to Israel and observed some sheep on a hillside. The sheep were in a perfect line and moved ahead just a few steps at a time, as the shepherd weaved in and out of the line speaking to each sheep. The sheep would turn their heads toward the sheperd then obey him immediately and completely; for, if they didn’t, they would not eat. You see, the green pastures that Psalm 23 talk about are really not that green at all! Rather, it’s a barren desert. The sheep had to trust that the shepherd would lead them to the small tufts of “pasture.” How differently I read that Psalm now! I had always imagined that pasture as green and lush, a place that I could “fill up” then be set for a while. Instead, the Lord taught me that I must be 100% dependent on Him, completely trusting that He will lead me to that next tuft of grass. And, while waiting, my head is turned up to Him, ready to hear what He has to say. Another surprise the Lord gave me was regarding a Donald Miller book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Grant decided to bring it and read it while in Mexico. I had started it about a year ago but didn’t get beyond the first few chapters. One evening, I had the book with me, and one of the staff commented that this book had been the tipping point to saying “yes” to coming to Mazatlan. She said that another staff member had actually included that in her testimony and had also been a huge part in the decision to come on staff with B2B. Well, I had to finish it, then! That night, as I was reading, the Lord did a little something. I read about a dad with a 13 year old daughter. She was rebelling, and her parents were obviously very upset about it. The night after we talked, Jason couldn’t sleep. He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized that he hadn’t provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn’t mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used. In the absence of a family story, she’d chosed a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence. “She’s not a bad girl, my friend said. “She was just choosing the best story available to her.” At this point, I had a huge lump in my throat. I thought about Ezra and her independent spirit. I thought about how similar she is to me and how incredibly rebellious I was and still am, at times. I knew that it was my and Grant’s responsibility to create a family story that allowed her a great role to play. “I started researching some stuff on the internet,” Jason said, “and I came across an organization that builds orphanages around the world. And that sounded to me like a pretty good ambition, something maybe my family could try to do together. It sounded like a good story.” Cue the whole body goosebumps. Ok, God, I hear you. p.s. The orphanages were in Mexico 🙂 The second week, a small group of 16 arrived. Grant followed the “group schedule,” which consisted of a meeting in the morning and spending the rest of the day at one of the children’s homes completing work projects then play time with the kids. The girls and I participated in some group activities but had to be back at the Team House for nap time. A few times I felt like the girls were in the way of the work projects needing completing, but the Lord always allowed us to connect with some kids before leaving, confirming our visit that day. I also drove to the grocery and got gas during this week! The last day, several staff, the group, and our family went to the aquarium with the kids from Salvation Army. For most of the kids, it was their first time! It was incredible seeing how excited they were to see the sea lion show, sharks, alligators, etc. Ezra and Evie had a wonderful trip. There are 8 children that are part of the staff families, and the girls loved spending time with them. Ezra even got to attend a sleep-over with the other girls. She cried when we left and asked if we could live in Mazatlan forever 🙂 While still a lot to process, Grant and I will continue to move forward as the Lord allows. There are still several steps before anything “official” would happen. In the meantime, we would be so grateful if you would continue to pray for our family. This is obviously a huge decision, and we want to be careful to not get ahead of the Lord. We will keep praying that the Lord directs our steps and that we will obey whatever He asks of us. Feel free to check out our pics from the trip!! If you have any specific questions or would like to know a little more detail about our time spent in Mazatlan, please let me know! https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10200483521226803.1073741826.1120447828&type=1&l=717b741f87 Please check out Back2Back‘s site, too! There are many opportunities for short-term trips, as well as more information on how Back2Back serves the orphan child.
It’s been almost 3 months, since my last post. And, our lives have changed a great deal! First, our foster son is now in another placement. I think it will be quite some time, until I’m able to accurately describe what that experience meant for my family. I know the Lord will be revealing His purpose for those 9 months well into the future. We’re feeling a mixture of emotions but are confident that the Lord has His hand on that little life.
Our next bit of news is that Grant and I are returning to Mazatlan, Mexico, with our girls. After we returned from our previous trip there, Grant and I committed to praying about what the Lord may have for us regarding orphan care. We obviously were still fostering at that point but felt the Lord possibly moving us in another direction. After a few days (we thought this time of prayer would last months!), it was clear that the Lord wanted us to reach out to Back2Back, the ministry with whom we had partnered in Mazatlan. That led to setting up our upcoming trip. We’ll be there for two weeks, one week working alongside the current staff in Mazatlan. Then, one more week with a small group completing projects at the children’s homes. We pray that the Lord will give us (and the staff) clear confirmation about if the Keys family could have a future in Mazatlan.
What we want is to be on staff in Mazatlan. What we want more is to be where God wants us. Please pray!
Grant and I have just returned home from, what I hope, is a permanently life-altering trip. We spent the last week in Mazatlan, Mexico, a beautiful coastal city on the Pacific. 11 months ago, when we started our Radical Experiment, we committed to setting aside a week of our year to “give our time in another context.” On January 12th, I wrote this post. Since then, as many of you know, we became foster parents. The idea of leaving behind 3 kids made the idea of a mission trip seem impossible. But, God wanted us in Mazatlan, so everything just fell in to place.
Grant and I had a week of time off that would expire at the end of the year, so we were looking at different vacation options. Both of us really were interested in a mission trip but couldn’t figure out how to make it work with the kids. On October 29th, I went to Bible Study and asked that my group would pray that a mission opportunity would open up for us before the end of the year. That same night, a friend mentioned how she had heard Beth Guckenberger speak at her church and the impact it had on her life. I remembered reading Beth’s book Reckless Faith earlier in the year and the longing it stirred up in my heart to spend time in Mexico…a desire I’d had since high school. Another friend suggested I check out Back2Back, a local organization that serves orphans in Mexico, India, Africa, and now Haiti. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it earlier, as I had already went on a mission trip with them in the past. I decided to look at their website that night to see if there were any trips that we could join. So, long story short, the Lord allowed several things to work out, and we booked the trip that week!
The week leading up to the trip was incredibly difficult for me. I was wrought with anxiety, so much so that I was starting to dread leaving for the trip. I understand now why that time was so rough. Satan did not want me and Grant in Mazatlan!
Back2Back recently launched its program in Mazatlan at the beginning of this year. Currently, the staff on site work with three different childrens’ homes: one focused on teenage girls, another for special needs children, and the third, a Salvation Army home. Each day we would visit one of the 3 homes, usually completing a work project first, then hanging out with the kids for the rest of the day. Our work projects included starting razor wire on the top of a fence, lots of painting, and mixing and pouring concrete. If you have been looking for some way to “give back,” or if God has begun to speak to you about your role in orphan care, I strongly suggest that you check out this organziation! http://back2back.org/
While on the trip, the Lord really worked on both of our hearts. I had no anxiety the entire time we were there, which is a real miracle for me recently! We had a lot of time to spend with Jesus, undistracted and quiet. The Lord protected our travel and our health. We truly had a richly blessed week. The Lord continued to protect at the airport on the way home. While standing in line for Customs at Dallas, our flight attendant rushed up to me. By the grace of God, a flight attendant on our flight had just happened to look down and found my driver’s license who knows where, recognized me, and sought me out of tons of people in the line at Customs.
This trip was unique in that there were only 7 of us, 5 participants and 2 staff members from the main office in Cincinnati. This allowed me a lot of time to get to know some of the staff that are on site in Mazatlan. I was able to talk about what life was like there for a mother. I loved that I was able to work alongside Grant, serving the homes and the kids, throughout the week. However, if Grant and I were on staff there, it would not look quite the same. Grant would be out working every day, while I would be at home with the kids. The staff women with kids do a whole lot in the background for Back2Back, while also caring for their children. I was so thankful to see how this would look for us, if we lived there.
This trip was different than I was expecting. I have been on several mission trips, and they always give me that “mountain top” experience. The high only lasts for a short time, though, once I’m gone. This feels more…permanent, I guess would be the word. I was expecting to bond with one or two kids and feel greatly impacted by those new relationships. Instead, God used this as a time to show me that this could be our new reality. The last night of our trip, we shared our “picture of the day.” Most days, I would think of this “God moment” right away. That night, I just felt sadness that the trip was over. While I missed our kids, I was not ready to leave this city, these orphans. Right before my turn, the Lord just overwhelmed me with the thought that this wasn’t the end for us in Mazatlan. We would be back. It was startling and gave me goose bumps! We were asked to think about one word that would describe our trip. I experienced so much this week. The Lord moved my heart in some dramatic ways. Trying to figure out one word to describe so much was hard. Broken. I met many broken children. I met staff who had been broken for these children. And, God broke my heart, too. I have an ache for these kids that seem to live in a whole other world. I pray that He leaves that ache there, so I will not grow weary of praying for them or whatever else He has in store for my family, regarding orphan care.
The last part of the trip, I read a book called Anything. Essentially, the author and her husband told the Lord that they would do anything that He asked of them. She talked about praying and surrending each “big” thing in their lives, things that could take the place or priority over God: house, career, kids, money, etc. I thought about all the things that I hold on to for dear life-my family, my health, my comfort. I’m not sure exactly what the Lord is preparing us to do, but I want to be ready to say YES, whatever it is, whatever the cost. God, we’ll do anything. Anything!