Monday, March 20, 2017

A Plea to the Church

Occasionally a message will burn so strongly in my heart that I cannot rest until I get it out. It feels that my chest will explode if I cannot find a way to share what is in my heart. This is one of those times. But, before I do, I want you to understand my tone.

Writing can be dangerous for a passionate guy like me. As you read these words on this page, you cannot see my face and decipher my tone as easily as you decipher these letters. So something that is written with tears in my eyes can easily be construed as being written with furrowed brow and scowl. I want you to know that as these words flow from my heart there are tears in my eyes and not a trace of anger. There is no judgement. This is just a heartfelt plea to God’s people. With that in mind, please continue reading.

Twelve days ago, a riot broke out in the Guatemalan government-run home, Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción. The resulting fire ended in the deaths of 40 adolescent girls and injuries to others and served to expose the abuse and neglect that had occurred in that nightmare of a home for years. Over 750 children and teens were housed in a place meant for 400. As I hear more of the testimonies from the children who were in there, my heart breaks at moments, only to be consumed with rage moments later. And the cycle continues to repeat.

What make this story especially sad is that it should never have happened. When I say that, you probably think, “Of course not! No one should ever treat a child like that!” And you would be right. What was done to those children is inexcusable. But that is not what I am talking about.

The abuse, neglect and deaths that occurred should never have happened, because Hogar Seguro (ironically the name means “Safe Home”) should never have existed. And it should not have existed because the government should not have been caring for orphans. That has always been, and always will be, the church’s responsibility.

Go to your Bible on your phone, pad or computer. Do a search in scripture for the words “orphan” and “fatherless.” What do you see? You see God repeatedly instructing His people to care for them. To feed them, clothe them and take them in. Old Testament…New Testament…doesn’t matter. They are completely in harmony on the topic. As God’s people, the orphan crisis in Guatemala and around the globe is OUR PROBLEM. And it is our responsibility to put an end to the crisis. In fact, according to James 1:27, resolving this crisis is at the heart of true and pure religion.

Right now there are around 650 children that have been thrust out of their orphanage and who need placement. Of that number, 43 of them had pronounced special needs. All of these have been placed into the same home in Guatemala City. They are crowded together into two big, open rooms where they live until another spot can be found. They are being fed and changed, but little else. This is not because the people caring for them are bad, but because they are overwhelmed. It is taking all that have to give to provide these basics. And the church has to do something.

There are two reasons why the church needs to be involved in caring for these 650 children, as well as the other children who are still in government homes. The first reason is obvious, because these orphans need the church…desperately. They need the body of Christ to care, and give, and go, and love them. Without the intervention of the church, many of these children will end up in gangs. Without the church, many will turn to prostitution. Without the church, many will go to jail. And, without the church, many will die. Each of these children need us desperately.

But there is a second reason that we often miss. THE CHURCH NEEDS THEM! 

Go ahead and read that again, just to make sure you didn’t misread it the first time. Yep, you read it right. The church needs the orphans. The church needs the displaced, the poor, the refugee, the broken. We need them, because without them we will never truly know Jesus.

I have known Jesus for over 34 years. During those years I have had one consistent prayer on my lips that has followed me from church to church and ministry to ministry. That prayer is this: "Jesus, let me know You as you really are without the filter of tradition, culture, or preconceived ideas." But it wasn't until I truly began to walk among the broken and taste their suffering that the layers of facade were stripped away and His face began to be revealed. And, now that I have experienced that, I can never go back.

I have learned that sharing in His suffering and the suffering of those He loves is necessary to know Him as He truly is. But that element is missing from most of the US church, and the church is suffering as a result.

Likely, some of you reading this right now are feeling an emptiness. You came to Christ and you are trying to follow Him. You go to church. You give. You try to show others Jesus in the way you live. But, somehow, there is still an emptiness. You can’t escape the awareness that you are missing something. You want your life to really matter for Jesus, but you wonder deep down if it really does. You want to feel God’s presence and hear His voice, but it is seldom that you actually do.

There is a false theology that has snared the church, and it is robbing us of the rich fellowship of Jesus Christ. It is the theology of comfort and security. We have been told that the responsible act is the godly act. Good parenting means keeping our children safe and sheltered. Good stewardship means savings accounts, retirement plans and never doing anything unless we have the money in-hand. Good discipleship means cautiousness. Keep your hands clean and your circle tight. And US Christianity proclaims “America First” and shuns risks.

But in the midst of the world’s suffering, out where things are dangerous and uncertain, is where we find Jesus. The Friend of sinners walks among the broken, poor, homeless and fatherless. And we will never truly know Him until we do the same.

We need the orphans as much as they need us. And, until we know that truth, we will consistently miss Jesus.

I write these words with tears in my eyes and pleading in my heart. Fellow believer, if you want revival in your life and in your church, step out in faith and walk with the poor, broken and orphaned. Please. It is the only hope for both the church and for the world.

That is finally off my chest, and I feel better. Now, let me share with you what our ministry is doing in response to the current crisis.


We want to take in more children, but we do not have the space. So, we have spoken with CNA and that have agreed to allow us to rent a second house close by and receive children under our current license. This is special permission to allow us to help them with the current crisis. Once the crisis has passed, we will either have to have that home licensed or close it down.

So, here we go. We are currently trying to rent a home just down the road from us. It is all on one level and is handicapped accessible. We will need to install a better bathroom, but it will otherwise be good to go. We are going to hire additional staff and receive ten more children with special needs.

Our daughters, Carissa and Taryn, are returning from Uganda. God has made it clear that the doors to open a group home there have been closed firmly by the government for now. In addition, the ministries with which Taryn had volunteered to serve have all cancelled on her. The only explanation for these events is that God is closing the doors there to send them elsewhere. Carissa has long-term plans that we will share soon, but in the short-term both of them are returning quickly to Guatemala to help us with this second house.

This is a huge step of faith for us in every way. This will increase our budget significantly. It will stretch Wanda and I and our staff in numerous ways. It is downright scary on almost every level. But God is never the source of fear, so we press on.

For right now, here is what we need:
  • Financial provision - We will have to hire at least three additional staff, purchase equipment and furnishings, install a bathroom, and increase our purchasing of food and supplies.
  • People to help - We need volunteers to come and serve. We especially need interns to serve from two months to a year. But we also need long-term workers to open additional homes and serve as support to the homes.
  • Prayer partners - We need people who are really interceding on behalf of our ministry and these children.
  • People to spread the word and share the needs - Could you share the first portion of this blog (down to the dotted line) with your congregation or small group? Could you talk to others and let them know about the crisis this country is facing? Then direct them to ways they can help. (Note: We are not suggesting that you funnel financial support to us. You can instead direct them to Orphan Resources International who is helping all the homes that are receiving children.)
  • In other words, we need you.

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Whenever there is a crisis, you would assume that most people would jump in to help. But most do not. It is not that they don’t care, but that they make a false assumption. Namely, they assume that there are others who are more qualified and better equipped who will step up to help.

Through years of experiencing this phenomenon, I now have a very different assumption. I assume that no one else will step up, so it is up to me. 

Might I make the recommendation that the church make that same assumption with me? What would happen if every believer and every church assumed that it was up to them? I sometimes like to sit and imagine that. And then I pray that God will make it reality.

So, here we go again, stepping off a cliff and praying that God will catch us as we catch these children. So, what do you think? Wanna take a leap?

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Murder, Fires and Hope

On Wednesday evening, March 8th, our ministry’s Director of Operation and my very dear friend, Manuel Moran, was gunned down in the street close to his home in Jocotenango. He was on his motorcycle and stopped at an intersection when two young men road up, opened fire and drove away. He was declared dead at the scene.

I was at home that evening when my phone rang. His wife, Cristina, our Home Coordinator, was on the other end sobbing. It took some time for me to understand her words. “Manuel is dead!” When I realized what she was saying, I was left in complete shock.

I had said goodbye to him ninety minutes before, after discussing the following day’s schedule. We hugged, he left, and now he was gone.

Wanda and I rushed to the national hospital together. On the way we discussed what could have happened. A motorcycle accident? A health problem? Three months before he had complained of headaches and dizziness. Could it have been a brain tumor like the one that claimed his 12 year old daughter nine years ago? But in all the scenarios we discussed through tears, cold-blooded murder was never considered.

When we arrived, we found Cristina sitting outside the hospital. We only had to follow the sounds of her crying to find her. I knelt in front of her, hugged her and asked what happened. 

“They shot him! They shot him right in the heart!”

I thought that I had seen first-hand everything this country had to throw at us. But I was wrong. We have grieved death caused by accident, illness, neglect and incompetence, but now we were seeing evil up close and personal. And it took my breath away.

How do you begin to process and grieve the loss of someone you love who was taken from you by an intentional act? Someone decided that they had the right to snuff out a life of a husband, father, brother, son and friend. Someone intentionally chose to kill a minister of the Gospel and a faithful partner in our ministry. With a few twitches of the finger, they ended the earthly life that had been created, loved and nurtured for 41 years. And I did not know what to do with that.

I have always known that this evil exists. I see it in the news every day. I read it or hear it and my brow furrows and my head shakes. But for the first time, we were the direct recipients of the pain it brings. And the pain was overwhelming.

Manuel was one of the finest men that I have ever had the opportunity to know. He was selfless and loving. He was funny and quite the practical joker. He always made you laugh. But he was also so very tender and gentle. I have seen him hold a sick and fragile child while wiping tears over their suffering. He was a great friend, but he was more than a friend. He was my brother. And I loved him. And I cannot describe how much I miss him.

Since his death, almost daily I reach for my phone to call him, only to remember that I cannot. Yesterday morning was hard, as it was our first staff meeting since his death. I kept looking toward the door expecting him to enter with his sunglasses and typical smile, but he did not. 

He was a crucial part of our ministry. He got things done, even if it meant early morning and late nights. He connected us with resources and put people at ease. He shared the Gospel boldly but without a trace of judgement. And I don’t know what we will do without him.

The days following his death were a blur of grief and confusion. Arrangements were made. Appointments and trips were cancelled. I met with the detectives who interviewed me as a part of the investigation. And, somehow, we made it to the funeral on Friday afternoon.

The service was nice as many came to share their condolences. But the treasure came as our procession followed the casket to the cemetery. The route we took walked us right past the special needs school that several of the children in our home attend. As we got close, I heard clapping and looked ahead. The students and teachers of the school had come out and lined both sides of the street, and as we passed, they clapped. I held it together pretty well until that point, but most everyone lost it then. I am not sure I have ever seen a more touching and fitting tribute than those beautiful children with special needs paying their respects in that manner. They were ministers that day.

We arrived at the grave and there were words spoken by Manuel’s sons, Daniel and Christian, and Cristina. At the end, Cristina called our entire Ministerio de Esperanza team forward to thank us for our support and to pray for us. Yes, you read that right. She prayed for us.

Many people have asked how they can support Cristina. I want to let you know that our ministry takes seriously the responsibility to care for both orphans and widows, and we are committed to making sure her needs are met. It is not appropriate for me to detail everything we are doing, but I do want you to know that the funeral is paid for and she is cared for. If any of you wish to give to assist our ministry in meeting these expenses, you are welcome to do so. But trust me when I tell you that we will not allow her to struggle.

On Sunday evening, almost our entire Guatemala ministry team came together in our home to worship, pray and look to the Word of God together. Around 45 of us were there, including Cristina and her sons, and God was present in a mighty way. That evening we were reminded that the enemy is defeated, death is powerless, and we would proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ more powerfully and boldly than ever. I truly felt healing flow over us. God is truly good and strong, and never more so than when we are weak.

We are still not sure how we will proceed. Manuel was such an important part of our ministry. His hands and influence were in all areas of our ministry. In a word, he is irreplaceable, both as an employee and a friend. For that reason, I would not allow myself to begin thinking about it until yesterday morning. I needed at least that long to mourn and pray and remember Manuel. And, even now, when I talk about finding a replacement I feel physically ill. We cannot replace Manuel. 

But we will move forward. We will find someone different with their own strengths, personalities and vision. I know we will love them as well and they will become family. And God will use them to take us forward to new areas. But they will be their own man or woman of God. But Manuel will remain in our hearts and our ministry.

As I write this, the motive for his murder is still unclear. It is obvious that they were not robbers, as nothing was stolen. That leaves two options. First, he could have been the victim of a gang initiation. Most gangs require a murder as an admission pass. I could be that Manuel was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Second, it could have been a contract hit. With gang members all around, you can arrange a murder for about $50. So even minor misunderstanding or disagreements can result in an assassination. We honestly don’t know the motive.

Ministerio Publico, the investigative branch of the police, seem to be taking the investigation seriously. They interviewed me on Friday morning seeking leads. They have asked me for a follow-up meeting that should happen this week. They seem to be pursuing every lead, and I am so grateful. We have forgiven his killers, but that does not mean that we do not want there to be justice. We don’t want these young man taking other lives. And Guatemala needs to see some examples of justice these days. Please pray for the salvation of Manuel’s killers, and please pray for justice.

We are facing many challenges right now. And one of those challenges erupted earlier the same day that Manuel was murdered. In the early hours of that same day, a riot in the state run orphanage in San Jose Pinula resulted in a fire that, at last count, had killed 40 teenage girls. More are hospitalize, and five have been transferred to the US for treatment.

As more and more details emerge, we are learning of horrible abuses that took place. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, isolation, rotten food, and physical restraints are just a few of the conditions that have been exposed. They now believe that all of the dead were locked together in a room, and their cries were ignored when the fire broke out. 

This orphanage was designed and equipped to care for 400 children. At the time of the fire, they were housing over 750.

In essence, these children were removed from homes and placed in this orphanage. They went from the frying pan into the fire. And it is now becoming clear that these children and teens were living a government sponsored nightmare.

Three people who were in oversight positions in the system have now been arrested. More arrests will likely follow.

The guilty home, Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción, has been ordered closed. This means that nearly 700 children are being thrust into an already full system. Many private homes, including ours, are being asked to receive survivors. We have agreed to receive two boys, and we are still waiting for them. The problem is, the children have all been scattered to a lot of different places, and they cannot find our boys. They have no papers indicating where each child was placed. The entire system is in chaos.

I plan to write more about this broken system soon, but for now we simply need your prayers. Pray for those girls that were burned and who are fighting for their lives. Pray for justice for those that have died, been injured or suffered abuse or neglect. Pray for the many private homes that are stepping up to care for these children, especially for provision and grace. And pray for Guatemala.

The bright spot in all of this ugliness is the church. I am seeing it alive and well as it comes together here in Guatemala. Following the fire, many ministries that serve orphans have come together to meet the needs. In addition, other ministries have reached out to us in the wake of Manuel’s death. Here are a few things I am seeing:
  • I see other ministries reaching out to us to offer their help to fill the gap that Manuel's death has left in our ministry. They are offering this help without desire for notice or credit, and they do so with no strings attached.
  • I see ministries directing donations away from themselves to other ministries to maximize the impact of the dollars on the current crisis following the orphanage fire and closure.
  • I see thousands of Christ-followers laying aside differences to pray together, cry together and work together.

In other words, I see the church being the church. And it is so good to see.

Please pray for our ministry, particularly Cristina and her boys in the days ahead. Pray for the children injured in the fire and the families of those lost. Pray for healing in the hearts and minds of those who were abused at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them. And pray for Guatemala, which can only know healing through the power of Jesus Christ.


Daryl, Wanda and the Crew