Mario-blog-headerI was only three years old – too young to remember but old enough to never forget. My parents fought everyday, until finally my mom left, disappearing from my life. My dad tried to take care of us, but he struggled. By the time I turned five, my sister and I were taken to Douglas Children’s Home, and my life would never be the same.

Soon after I moved into Douglas, I began kindergarten. I needed my mom’s love. This hole she left was filling with anger, sadness, and distrust. Thankfully, Lorena, a caregiver at Douglas, prayed and read me Bible stories at night.

My mom visited twice between kindergarten and sixth grade. I tried coping by staying busy, playing with friends and spending time with mission groups from Back2Back – anything to distract me from thinking of my mom. At the end of middle school, I faced a huge decision. Do I go back to my dad’s house or move forward in the Hope Education Program? My dad encouraged me to, “fight for your dreams.” The problem was, I didn’t really have any.In the end, I wanted to be near my sister who was in the Hope Program, so I moved on-campus bringing with me all the hate I felt towards my mom.

MarioJazminWEBIn the summer of 2010, something started to change inside me. I went to a retreat, and it felt like the speakers were talking directly to me about forgiveness and perseverance. I had never thought of the pain a lack of forgiveness could bring to my life. I said to myself,

If this God really exists, I want Him to show Himself and do something in my life.

One of the leaders prayed for me and whispered, “God has not left you. Open your heart to God, and it will be different from this point forward.” When he finished praying, I felt an overwhelming sense of His presence. I had a real encounter with God.

MarioChrisWEBIt wasn’t long before old feelings about my mom came flooding back, and my trust in God shifted with those feelings. My houseparent in the Hope Program developed cancer, and had to leave. Angry, I shouted at God, “Why do people I care about leave?”

I started to withdraw from everyone. I began spending a lot of time alone. My behavior became uncontrollable, and I was vomiting the things I wished I could say to my mom on others. I yelled and acted in rage. It reached a point where I had to decide to work through my feelings or my future in the Hope Program would be in jeopardy.

For the next year, I went to counseling and prayed to God asking what He had for my life. Slowly, I was learning I did not want to hate my mom anymore. Early in 2013, God spoke to me while on a mission trip to Cancun, creating a desire within me to serve children who were living what I lived through. God was transforming my thinking, and I returned home feeling more positive, calm and focused.

MarioCancunWEBNot long after the Cancun trip, my pastor spoke about forgiveness – a theme that kept resurfacing in my life. As he spoke, I thought of my mom, crying and praying really hard. I told God, I want to be OK. I want to be happy. A few days later in my time with God, He pointed out I had many people supporting me, but no one is going to do the work for me. I asked God, “What do I need to do to be better?” He replied,

You need to forgive your mom. Not forgiving her holds you back. You need healing in your heart.

I gathered my courage and called her. I will never forget that day. When she answered, I cried and couldn’t believe I was actually speaking to her. I shared my desire to see her, and she agreed. After we hung up, I cried,

“God, I’m leaving this all in your hands. Please take control of everything I’m feeling and what I am about to confront.”

I sat, waiting, at a train station. Four hours passed, and I questioned if I had gotten the time wrong. Just as I started to lose hope, I saw her. In a crowd of people I recognized her immediately. I ran to my mom, hugged her, and whispered, “I forgive you for everything that happened between you and dad. I want to be OK with both of my parents. Everything that has happened is in the past.”

We spoke for a while, and then I returned home feeling closure with my past. A week later, I sat reflecting and realized God has something better for me. I know I can be close to God when I have doubts and questions. I don’t have to push Him or anyone else away. I have peace.

My life has changed since the day I was dropped off at a children’s home 15 years ago. I continue to visit my mom. I love this photo of my aunt, myself and my mom.

MariosMom

I pray, read the Bible, and serve where I can. In June 2014, I served on a mission trip in Haiti, where I shared my story with the boys who live there. Since Haiti, I have been thinking a lot about where God has taken me. I never thought God would take me to a place of healing or use my story to heal others around the world. Whatever God says, I want to do; wherever He sends me, I want to go. My path, the one I must travel, is the journey of a healed heart.

Mario, living in Monterrey, Mexico, is pursuing a Communications degree through Back2Back’s Hope Education Program. 

Web-Banner-for-CAFO-SiteOn Orphan Sunday, November 2, 2014, we have the chance to celebrate all the ways God is reaching His children! Circumstances of relational brokenness, financial poverty, natural disasters and widespread illnesses have brought them to this point, but God doesn’t leave them there. He is coming for them, lifting them up, defending their cause, making them a home, inclining his ear, and executing the dozens of promises He has written for them.

Here are ten ways you can celebrate Orphan Sunday in your home this year:

  • Pray. Pray for children in a specific country, age group, or gender group. Pray for their health, their friendships, and their futures.
  • Sponsor a child. Consider our child sponsorship program and bring a child into your extended family. As Andy Stanley says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.”
  • Reach out to a missionary and encourage them on this day. Send an email, a message over social media or a care package. They would love to know you are thinking of them!
  • Take fifteen minutes and look up God’s promises to orphans. As you read God’s Word, ask Him to share with you how you participate with Him in this mission.
  • Post, tweet, and activate your social networks. Let them know how you are using this day to pray and sacrifice for the fatherless. View sample tweets and Facebook posts designed to help you spread the word.
  • Build awareness in your local church. Ask your church if you could put something in thebulletin or church website, raising awareness of the plight of the orphan.
  • Look up an adoption agency online. Most agencies have a waiting child photo listing. Scroll past the pictures and pray for the waiting children. Is there anyone you might be able to forward the link?
  • Take a meal to an adoptive or foster family. There are 400,000 kids currently in foster care. You might not be able to care for their child, but you can always bring them a meal.
  • Explore Safe Families. There is an all-volunteer alternative to the foster system. Volunteers can provide temporary homes, support these host families, and also aid birth families.  Learn more about Safe Families.

However you spend this day, please know we are grateful that you are joining in this work!

Beth Guckenberger is the mother of a bunch of biological, adopted and foster children.  She and her husband, Todd, direct Back2Back Ministries.  Beth is the author of several books on the journey of their life abroad.

B2Bblog_SilentNight1Bear with me for a minute while we do some Christmas chronology. Zechariah and Elizabeth are parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah is in the priestly division of Abijah (their priestly duty was in June). Elizabeth is pregnant “shortly after”, presumably late June. (Luke 1)

Six months later, during Hanukkah, the baby leaps in her womb at the newly conceived Jesus. Jesus, the Light of the World, was conceived during the Festival of Lights. He was born nine months later, in September, when Jews celebrate Sukkoth, the Feast of the Tabernacles. It makes all the sense in the world now why, when Luke writes about the baby’s arrival, he literally writes, Jesus ‘tabernacled’ among us. To tabernacle means ‘to dwell among’ and of all the places Jesus could have chosen to dwell, he picked the stinky animal shack. All that darkness makes the light shine even brighter, and He has been seeking out the darkest corners and dwelling there ever since.

In these tabernacle moments when we feel Him near, we can sense His dwelling among us. To borrow a phrase from the fifth century Christians, we are in a thin place, where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin, and we can sense the divine more readily.

Last Christmas, I had one of those moments at a children’s home in Monterrey, Mexico. We were in the hillside chapel at Casa Hogar Douglas, singing Christmas carols and watching children in animal costumes and girls with bells perform a few numbers they had rehearsed. We culminated the evening with a candlelight service (yes, we temporarily lost our sanity and handed fire to 75 children), and sang Silent Night together in two languages. At the last moment, I decided to FaceTime my dear friend, Judy Morand. She had sang with children many times in that chapel, but on this particular night was receiving chemotherapy in the U.S. for a disease that has since taken her life. Once the connection came through and she ‘joined’ us in that chapel, I walked over to her sponsor child and together they sang Silent Night, in the dark, with a candle, praising a God who connected these two lives in friendship, who shouldn’t even know each other, let alone, love one another. But that is what happens when Jesus tabernacles among us – He makes space between relationships where love fills in.

I could hardly speak as I watched a young orphan boy get his ‘cup filled’, as his heart was touched by Judy’s life and love for him. I watched Judy’s eyes lift above her circumstances to a place where love and relationships count more than anything else. In reaching out, and loving each other, they honored the Christ child who tabernacled among us. “Noche de paz, holy night…” We sang together, finding ourselves that evening in the thinnest of places.

This advent season, when shopping and noise, parties and feasting threaten to crowd out the thin places, just stop. Remember He has come to tabernacle among us. He wants to shine His light in our darkest of corners and fill the space with love.

Beth Guckenberger is the mother of a bunch of biological, adopted and foster children.  She and her husband, Todd, direct Back2Back Ministries. Beth is the author of several books on the journey of their life abroad, including Reckless Faith (Zondervan).