Saturday, August 17, 2013

Enseñame A Amar

I'm home :) Thank you all so much for all your prayers and support. I know I updated this a lot less than I thought I would, so I'll just give you a quick basic update.

The greenhouse is almost finished! I absolutely loved working on that with the Nicaraguans and am amazed at how quickly they built it. The reason it isn't complete is that we received a shipment of 300 bikes for a bike shop, and all hands went on deck as we started pricing them and organizing them. Within the first day, we made over 600 dollars, within the second, over a thousand. By this point, they're all probably installing gold toilet seats in the Posada bathrooms.

Over the course of this last month, I learned a lot about everything. Not just about missions, but about myself, and about God, and love and joy and worship and so much more. It was an incredible, incredible experience and something that I learned is that though when we go to foreign countries and call it a missions trip, the disciples never called their travels anything. All it was was love, it didn't need some official name. I used to think that God was calling me to love people in Nicaragua, but now I know he's calling us to love no matter where we are. So why in the world am I making an effort to love people in Nicaragua and then coming home and acting normal?

Early in the trip, I used Enseñame A Amar (Teach Me to Love) just kind of as a motto and one of the songs I played at Friday night worship. But God legit did teach me. Much more than I thought he would.

It's incredible to be home, but it'll be tough not to just go back into the motions. I want to remember what I learned (there's a lot!) and I want to live it, not just talk about it. Doing my devotion this morning I realized that the Devil really wants us to think that those awesome experiences with God in our lives were connected to that place or that person that are gone now. It would be easy for me to think that I won't feel God the same way because I'm in my ordinary place, but now I know that God's the same and his love's the same no matter where we are.

Thank you all again, for everything. This trip was challenging at some points, but rewarding beyond imagine in the end. And it wouldn't have been possible without all of you :)

God bless,

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Necesitando A Amar (Segunda Parte)

You need to hear the end of this story (it isn't what you think).

A couple of nights ago, I was walking home and found myself alone with the boy from my last post. As soon as he asked me if I could help him translate more stuff for the girl who wrote to him, I suddenly felt God tugging at my heart and realized it was time to break the news.

Watching for his reaction, I told him she wasn't coming back. He looked at me in surprise and recited the date he thought she was coming. I shook my head.

"Next year?" he asked.

"I have no idea, man. It's possible, but it's possible she won't."

I told him I was sorry she wasn't coming back. I told him that even if she did, people like her and I have our own homes in the States and have to return eventually. I told him about me and the Casa Belen girls, and about how even though I had wanted to go back to them, God had different plans. I told him it wasn't right for me to make a promise like that because I'd had no idea whether or not I'd actually be able to come back.

Reaching the porch of La Posada, we sat down in the rocking chairs. He said nothing, just listening quietly.

I told him that a lot of people have disappointed me too. But I told him that there was one person who has never left me, has never let me down, and that's God.

I kept pausing, feeling like I was talking a lot and hoping to hear something from him. But still, nothing. I even asked him at the end if he wanted to ask me anything, but he said no.

And then, calmly, he walked inside.

I was stunned. Of course I was happy he wasn't hurt, but I couldn't believe it. He had wanted to tell her that he loved her with all his heart and soul. And now, without a tear, he shrugged it off that she wasn't coming back.

Confused and dead tired, I went to bed and decided to call my super-wise mom in the morning. I explained the whole conversation with her and asked her why in the world the boy didn't show any reaction.

"Honey, there are two possibilities here," she said. "Either he truly believes that God will never leave and he's holding on to Him, or he's used to being abandoned and is just pushing it down with all the other times this has happened."

The first case was doubtful. Though he's fourteen, his attitude reminds me of a mischievous ten year old. I examined the second case, and realized that was even sadder than him crying about it. Despite the passionate words he'd written on paper, they were just another desperate plea he wasn't confident in. Words he'd say over and over again until someone took them. But they didn't hold any actual significance, as he'd say them to anyone, so that meant that he's essentially being dulled to love. I've heard of many kids who've been like this, and it killed me to see that it was happening to him too. Mom also said all this abandonment he was pushing down would make it hard for him to trust and hold onto people in the future. All we could do now was pray that that wouldn't happen.

Mom also mentioned that I should ask him why he wasn't sad, but I kind of disregarded that in my head. As far as I understood, the story was over.

Then, tonight, while washing dishes next to the boy, I felt that tug on my heart again, and I deccided to ask him about his reaction.

"Why weren't you sad?" I asked him. "The words you wanted me to translate, they were pretty serious."

"I was, a little bit," he said.

"A little bit?" The words I'd translated didn't justify just being "a little" sad. 

"I thought you would be a lot more upset," I told him. "How were you just a little sad?"

And then he said something that cut straight to my heart.

"Because in my room that night, I prayed."


Not really knowing what else to ask, I just asked why.

"I always pray. I believe in God."

He smiled up at me, and I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I smiled back.

"That's awesome dude," I said.

He went inside as I turned away and walked off to the table where I do my prayer time. And I began to weep. Because I'm amazed that a kid who has been abandoned and put down over and over can keep from breaking because he truly believes that God will make everything okay. That he can love God and have faith enough to be joyful through even another broken hope.

I called my parents and told them the whole thing. Once more, my mom said something typical of her super-wiseness.

"Think of how much suffering it's taken for him to earn that kind of faith."

This kid has suffered a lot. I don't know his story, but I do know he's in an orphanage. I do know he's not being raised by his parents. I can't imagine being in that situation. He inspires me, because he is a true example of loving God despite whatever circumstance. I love God and am convinced that if I really want to get to know him and be in the center of his will, then there's gonna have to be some suffering.

I haven't gone through suffering. Not yet. I've hurt, of course, we all have. But I have not had life-shaking stuff happen to me like he has. I have a nice house, awesome parents, an incredible girlfriend, and a great education. I haven't had to suffer that much. But still, I doubt God sometimes. I get angry at him. I second-think promises he's made me.

And then here's this boy in an orphanage with faith like a child that shakes my heart.

I realize that many children in Nicaragua have been abandoned like him. And I know many of them are becoming dulled to love or are having their hearts broken over and over again to the point of depression. And that's what I expected to find with this guy.

But instead, I found life. Instead, I found vibrant, infectious joy. Because he trusts in Jesus.

I think we all can learn from that. I know I can.

Enseñame A Amar

Mark Rodriguez

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Necesitando A Amar

Hey everybody, I know I just posted recently but a lot has happened the past couple of days and I thought I'd share it with you. P.S., This may be a pretty long post

On Friday, I led one of my favorite worship experiences of my life. Our band consisted of Josh (guitar and some vox), his brother Andrew (drums), me (vox and guitar), and Marysol (killer harmonies), one of the caretakers for the girls. All the Bernabe kids and the Spring Branch Nicaragua team came out to the auditorium to worship with us.

Though it was in Spanish, I've never enjoyed singing live this much. It was definitely the most rock & roll (verging on heavy!) set I've played, which I think was a product of playing with an incredibly passionate, on fire team. At one point, I played Enseñame A Amar on acoustic guitar, and after I explained the lyrics to Spring Branch, it was a beautiful thing to hear Nicaraguan and American voices begging God to teach them to love like he does.

Anyways, I can't wait to lead again this Friday night, and I'm so blessed to get to praise God with such a talented group of people.

Now, I need to say something that may be a little uncomfortable to hear.

Last year, with my school, I met six kids from a home for girls, Casa Belen. I have a little sister (that I love very much) who was once an orphan in Nicaragua, and due to the similarities of the cases, I quickly became protective and what I guess you could call paternal to the Belen girls. I looked at it like this: they didn't have a male figure in their life, so wasn't it my duty to become that for them?

Before I left for the States, I was overwhelmed by the crying of these girls I thought I'd developed such a bond with. "I'll be back," I promised. When I got home, I wrote them a note from their "Uncle" (that's what they called me), telling them how much I loved them and how I looked forward to seeing them again.

You may be surprised, but there are few decisions I regret as much as those above. I promise to explain.

Last night, one of the younger kids in La Posada asked me to help him learn some English. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. It started out with some basic words, like "goodbye" and "I love you". He told me they were from a girl from a team that had come for a week; she'd sent him a letter.

I suddenly realized this may be a lot more than some translating. Something God has been teaching me since my experiences with the Belen girls is about attachment issues and boundaries with the kids we minister to. Many missions trips focus on spending time with kids from various orphanages and refuge homes.

The reason I regret my actions with the Belen girls is that I never came back. I never saw them again. I was with them for two weeks, in which they began to treat me like a big brother/fatherly figure. I'm very protective and loving to my little sister, and these girls were in a very similar situation to what my sister had been in. So I was protective and loving to these six girls.

I promised them I'd come back to them. I never did.

I want you to think about something. Think about your typical (if that term can be used) kid in an orphanage. Obviously, they don't live with their parents. Most likely, it's because they weren't wanted or couldn't be taken care of. I'm very blessed to have two awesome parents who provide for me, love me, and teach me a ton about everything. Kids are born with the need for that affection and that teaching. And these kids have been abandoned, for whatever reason.

This is the tricky part. When you come on a missions trip and play with some kids, you may feel like you're developing a bond with a couple of them. Because of the amount of time you spend with them, they may begin to look to you for affection, as they used to with their parents. So while you're with them, you take on this responsibility of being around them and looking out for them. And then, even though you may have hugged them countless times, told them you love them, made them laugh, you leave them. And it hurts you. Because you may be gone forever. And even though you may return, you will have to leave them again.

I assure you that when you leave them, it hurts them more than it hurts you. Not because they love you, but because you left. Just like their parents.

That's what I did to six little girls who had already been through hell.

This kid I'm telling you about, I read the letter that was sent to him. The girl told him God had put them in each other's lives for a reason (which is honestly quite possible), but then took it further by talking about their relationship as if there was a bond. Though she knew him for a week, she spoke to him like they had a very, very close relationship. Like I thought I did with the Belen girls.

He told me she was coming back August 9th. And he wanted me to help him translate some stuff to say to her. He wrote a sentence down, and as I translated it, my heart seized up.

"I want to be with you forever and never leave you."


I stared as he wrote again. I could hardly bring myself to lift the pen this time.

"I love you with all of my heart and my soul."

Before this trip, I regretted my actions with the Belen girls because I broke a promise. But I never expected how firmly kids may cling to our words. This boy is practically counting down the days till the girl returns. The one person who has showed this much interest in him; though he knew her only for a week, she treated him like a mother. Now, in his mind, he needs her.

I found out something that night, from a friend of the girl's. The boy has his information mixed up. The girl is coming back to Nicaragua August 9th. But not to Casa Bernabe. Not to him.

The person he loves with all his heart and soul isn't coming. I don't blame her for this, because if she did come, she'd have to leave again. Which honestly makes perfect sense, missions teams come and leave.

The girl's friend told me to tell the boy to write a letter back to her. If he did, I could give it to her and she could take it with her. All I'd have to do is get it to her before tomorrow morning, when she leaves for the States.

That night, yesterday, I made a decision. I didn't tell the boy to write back a letter. I'm not telling him his friend isn't coming until her friend leaves, so I guess tomorrow or Tuesday afternoon. Because I know that this girl, who seems like an awesome, well-meaning person, will never be what he expects her to be. He wants her to never leave him; even if she came, she would have to.

And I know that though it may break his heart when I tell him she's not coming, I can't let him keep this "relationship" going. Because even worse than hopelessness is false hope. And that is what he has. False hope that this girl, who spoke to him in such an intimate way, will fill the gap of the provider that he needs. Unless she were to adopt him (and she won't, she knew him for a week), she will NOT fill that gap.

And I will NOT let him keep thinking she will.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because for those of you who have been on missions trips, you probably can relate to how I felt to the Belen girls. But it is NOT our job to act like these childrens' providers. Josh told me something interesting: "It's kind of rude for Americans to think they need to love on these kids, because that's what their caretakers are already sacrificing everything to do."

Before you go on your next missions trip, think of something. Why am I going? And will what I'm doing really help?

What's going on with this boy is crazy to me. I think a lot of us feel like we have this bond with the kids we're ministering to. But look at his case! And look at what you can offer! We can't fill the hole in the kids' hearts for parenting; what's scary is we may make it larger.

My words may seem offensive. They probably do, they did to me as I was first understanding this. But this is something we need to understand. When you are going on a missions trip, why are you going? Be careful. Be so so careful that you're actually helping, not hurting.

This kid's story is not a rare one. He's not just a special case.

So how should we act to these kids? Honestly, the way many trips are run throw you into constant situations of playing with them. I'm not the biggest fan of these, because that kind of confuses me about the "mission" part of the missions trip. I suppose there are many reasons for missions trips to poor countries, but I think that at the core the mission should be to come alongside the impoverished and empower them to escape their poverty. To give them what my friend James Belt calls "spiritual and tangible hope".

To avoid this attachment issue, choose your trip wisely. When choosing, focus strongly on your reason/what you want to accomplish. If your situation still puts you in constant contact with orphans, remember who you are. You're there a limited period of time. You're not their parent, their uncle/aunt, their big brother/sister. If you want to help these kids, don't give them temporary happiness. Give them joy. Share the gospel. In reality, that is what changes lives, communities, countries.

Yes, these kids need love. No, we can't fill that. But I know someone who can. I have a Father who can. Point these kids to him. Then, they will never have to be empty again.

Enseñame a Amar

Mark Rodriguez

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Aprendiendo A Amar

Hey everybody! I can't believe this is only my seventh day here in Nicaragua. The hospitality and quick friendships here make me feel like it's been a month or more. I'm amazed and thankful for how welcoming this place has been.
Anyways, God has been so good this week! I arrived at Casa Bernabe in the middle of the night and spent my first night in La Posada, the dorm for the teenage guys. In the morning I was introduced to the guys; there are ten of them ranging from probably about thirteen to sixteen. It was really cool to get to see Armando (a fifteen-year old that Carley's family sponsors), he knew who I was and we quickly formed a friendship. I was also introduced to William, the other leader for the Posada boys.
The guys are really great. Even though (like I said) it's only been seven days, I feel like I'm getting to know them pretty well. I'm teaching two of them (Armando and another guy) guitar daily, and it's so cool to see their progress and their passion for learning. They're making so much progress that I think by the end of the month they'll hopefully be pretty self-sufficient as far as learning goes.
I've also gotten the opportunity to help some of the guys in the field. Each boy is growing a row of plants, and display a ton of initiative and wisdom when it comes to caring for them. Another thing that I'm really stoked about is the greenhouse. Thanks to all of you who donated to the project, we fully funded the construction of this greenhouse that the Bernabe kids will use to learn more and more about how to grow food and eventually, take care of themselves with these skills. I love getting to work alongside the Nicaraguans to build something that'll better their livelihoods.
The ways God has been speaking to me while I'm here are amazing. The first two days I was really confused because while I'm used to consistently different scenarios while on missions trip, on this trip the setting is fairly constant. This made me begin to doubt why I'm here; I felt like I wasn't doing anything effective. I began to doubt whether this was actually what God had called me to do. Then, in the awesome way he does, God made a verse pop up that was one of the verses I felt he was using to call me here. I suddenly felt this sense of sureness. Whenever God calls us to do something, he is working to advance his kingdom. Obviously, that’s the exact opposite of what Satan wants. I’m very thankful that God helps us to fight our unbelief and assure us of his will.
While I've been here, God has been working a lot on my perspective of Nicaragua and how I’m supposed to minister to people. It’s crucial for me to not think of this month as either a success or failure. Something I realized from Skyping Carley last night is that it’s important that I don’t think of getting to know these boys as my mission so I can minister to them. I should get to know them to get to know them. Otherwise, it’s not really a real relationship; no relationship should be founded on a motive.
So anyway, that’s what’s going on for the most part. I could definitely use some prayer, especially for that whole success/failure mentality. I need to learn more and more to listen to God as opposed to just doing my own thing. At the end of this trip, all that matters is whether or not I have worshipped God in everything I do. Please pray that I would learn to make that my highest priority.
I can not thank you all enough for your support. There are so many awesome people here I’m getting to know and I’m learning to love and listen to God in so many new ways. I hope you all have a blessed Summer.

Mark Rodriguez

p.s. There is nothing creepier than seeing a tarantula crawl to your room solely by the light of a TV.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Final Prayer Requests

Hey everybody! Today I'm heading out to Maryland to catch a flight tomorrow and I just wanted to ask a few prayer requests now since I probably won't post anything until I've been in Nicaragua a week or so.

Anyways, here are a couple of prayer requests.

-The opening of the hearts of the teenage guys I'm gonna be working with
Last night I was led to a passage in Isaiah and a passage in Acts that referenced the exact same thing: God sending someone to a hurting people who have closed eyes and ears because their hearts have been dulled. The passages said that the only way they could be healed would be if their hearts were opened.
These kids have been to hell and back, and some aren't even back yet. Lives of abuse, abandonment, and attachment issues have screwed with their perception of love and trust. I think this is a large part of the "dulling of hearts" I read about. So I would really appreciate prayer that God would break the chains around their hearts so that I can share his love and grace with them.

-The understanding of how to act around/treat kids who have felt those issues
I'm not going to be able to treat these kids like normal teenage guys. As I said above, their perception of love and trust is twisted. I ask that you'd pray that I'd just know how to act around them with the knowledge of those issues. Being an American teenage guy who has had a really safe life, I definitely don't understand what they've been through, but I don't want that to be a barrier to forming genuine friendships with them and telling them about Jesus.

-That I would learn on this trip how I and my gifts can be used effectively in Nicaragua
One of the main reasons I'm going on this trip is to learn what Nicaragua needs help with. It's pretty important for a missionary or missions team to know that, because poverty isn't at all the same in every country. There are many things I know that could help Nicaragua like roads (so children can get to school), better medical care, a police force of reliable/good people, but where does my role fit in this country? That's what I want to find out, as opposed to doing jobs that I may not be equipped to do and therefore not really help Nicaragua.

This is a trip that God is in control of. I have a good idea of what I'll be doing but I have no clue what the results will be or if he has other things in mind. I'm sure he does, honestly.

Thank you for your support :) I don't really know when I'll be updating this again, but I'll make sure to email/post it in the facebook group when I do.

Later, America.


Enseñame a Amar

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dos Semanas!

Hey everybody!
As of today, I have only two weeks before I head off to Nicaragua :) I can't believe this trip is already right in front of me, I'm extremely stoked and very thankful! I'm still getting monetary donations towards the greenhouse project, and it's a huge blessing to see how much people want to support me and my trip.
Anyways, I have some new info on what I'll be doing that I thought I'd share. I found out that I'm actually going to get to teach guitar lessons to a ton of the teenage guys! Also, Josh wants me to bring down some Spanish worship songs for our worship band to play. I'm beyond excited for these two things because I believe music connects people regardless of race, politics, and so many other boundaries. Worshipping through music is one of my favorite things in the world, so I'm really excited to get to lead these teenage guys I'm gonna meet in it!
As the trip is getting really close, I'd appreciate your prayers now more than ever. Things you could pray for are:
-Openness towards God's plans and his will for my trip,
-Eyes that see my role in the Nicaraguans lives and the most effective way to minister them,
and any other things you think I might need!
Thank you again so so much to everybody for your support. Whether it's a five hundred dollar check or someone telling me they're praying for me, it makes my day. I truly feel like you all are sending me out, and to feel so many people behind me makes me more and more aware of how blessed I am.
Thank you :)

Monday, June 3, 2013

45 Days!

I can't believe there are only 45 days left until my trip to Nicaragua! Thank you so much to everyone for your prayers, God has been seriously molding me and working in me to prepare me for this trip, and I definitely believe that much of that is the result of your faithful prayers. Thank you.
Also, thank you everyone for your financial support. For those that don't know, my flights and my living expenses and all that are now fully covered. I'm stoked to say that the total donations towards the greenhouse project (to help the kids at the orphanage learn farming skills to equip them to support themselves and raise families) are at about TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS right now! And money is still coming in, I'm so excited to see how this greenhouse will help the kids.
I recently talked to Josh, the teams coordinator, discipleship guy for the kids, and pretty much one of the head guys at Casa Bernabe orphanage. I'm going to be working under him a lot, and he helped give me more of an idea of what my days may look like while I'm staying at the orphanage. I'm going to be sleeping at La Posada, where the teenage guys (12-15/16) sleep. Josh says that when he first came to Casa Bernabe he stayed at La Posada, and he says it was literally one of the defining experiences of his life. Even though he's a Nicaraguan, he says it was a really eye-opening experience and that he grew closer to God than ever. So I'm really stoked for that!A huge focus of this trip for me is opening my heart to the Nicaraguan guys and letting them open theirs to me. I want to share with them what God's been doing in my life, and I expect God's gonna speak to me in crazy ways through them as well. I'm stoked to see how we can strengthen each other's faith and passion for the Father. And I also hope that, as a TON of those kids are in pretty hopeless places, Jesus will use my love for him to reach them and plant seeds of light in their hearts. Josh told me when I Skyped him the other night that I'm actually going to get to write and lead some devotions for the guys, and also I'll get to lead worship for them, which I'm INCREDIBLY excited for.
Josh also told me that I'll be spending my mornings working with him, and I really look forward to learning from him and talking with him. He has a really up-front, unashamed faith and truly believes that God can do ANYTHING. He's an awesome dude who's completely on fire for God and I'm really stoked to learn from him about that and about how to effectively minister to his country. That's a big part of my trip; I'm considering long term missions in Nicaragua after high school, so I want to see what does Nicaragua really need? How can I be a part of that? And how, in that, can I share the Good News?
I'm more excited for this trip than I've ever been for anything. I've seen so much faith in Nicaragua, so many people who worship and aren't ashamed, who dance around in church as if nobody's looking at them. But I've also seen a lot of brokenness. A lot of hurt, a lot of abandonment. In 45 days I get the opportunity to fly down there and laugh with them, cry with them, find Jesus with them. He's moving down there, I can feel it, he's moving in the coolest ways.

Thank you for your support :)

p.s. I'll start updating this blog as the trip gets closer, and either weekly or biweekly while I'm there. Adiós :)