Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Lie of Legalism

James and Ellie Carr
This is more of a personal post about something I (Ellie) have been convicted about lately.  The lie of legalism an issue that I have battled for years, worse at some times than others.  I can confess that lately it has been a real struggle for me, but the Holy Spirit has been convicting me of it over the past week again.  I say all of that as a disclaimer that I am not trying to convict anyone else of their sin, but rather put my own experiences out in the open for others to learn from and to help me recognize and flee from my own sin.

Right now in the children's home our family serves at, I am discipling one of the seventeen-year-old girls here in a one-on-one study on the fundamentals of Christianity.  Last weekend, we focused on the role that the Holy Spirit plays in the life of a Christian and the difference in legalistic obedience and obedience that flows from the Spirit.  Over the week that followed, the lesson I had just walked through with the girl I disciple kept resurfacing in my mind piece-by-piece becoming clearer and undeniably speaking into my own life.

I have always been a rule follower.  It's just who I am.  I often feel that if I follow the rules and do everything right, things will go well for me.  For example, I figured out early in life that if I stay out of trouble, do the best I can in school, and go to college then I will be able to get a decent paying job and be financially stable.  And it worked.  My husband, who was a firefighter, and I, a practicing nurse, owned a house and were making six figures only two years after I graduated from college.  That was not the plan God had for the rest of our lives, however.

Although we were succeeding according to the standards of the world, we were still falling short according to God's standards.  I often found myself trying to earn God's love by being a rule follower, but instead of feeling loved, I just began to feel bitter.  I would look at others around me who weren't as obedient or hadn't "played by the rules" in life but were still successful.  I would wonder why God allowed things to go well for them when I clearly did things the "right" way  (I am ashamed to even admit that for others to read).

What I am reminded of, however, is that even my best isn't good enough for God (Isaiah 64:6).  When I compare myself to others I am using a relative and skewed standard upon which to base my own legalism.  Furthermore, comparing my life to the lives of others only results in mixed feelings of pridefulness and bitterness, neither of which were healthy for my own heart.  The truth is that we are all equal in that we all come up short of pleasing God no matter how good we think we may be at following the rules (Romas 3:23).  The law wasn't designed for me to compete with others and "get ahead" in life.  It wasn't designed for me to build myself up, but rather to humble me in comparison with the perfect and holy God that I serve.

So what can I do then, when my best isn't good enough?

The Bible commands us in Ephesians to "be filled with the Holy Spirit" (5:18).  Notice that that is passive.  It isn't something that I do or earn.  The only way I can grow close to God is by discarding my own pride and letting Him fill me.  Only when His Spirit is in me can I experience His love- not by what I do for Him, but by what He has already done for me on the cross and continues to do in my heart through the Holy Spirit.  It is only through Him that I can learn to be happy or rejoice when things go well for others.  It is then, that both the focus and the burden is taken off of me.  My life no longer is about me, but rather, is about Him.

I am still learning to walk in this truth daily, and I still mess up.  Frequently.  But in writing this I am trying to confess my weakness, be held accountable for it now, and allow God to meet me where I am to change my heart.  I believe He is faithful to do so.

Romans 7:22-25
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

In Memory of Richard

James and Ellie Carr
I met Ricardo on my first trip to Guatemala to work with Global Soccer Ministries in 2008. He had a contagious smile, a goofy personality, and was there with our mission team all week.

James met him the following year on his first trip to Guatemala in 2009, and there was an instant connection.  He knew how to be patient with our broken Spanish then, and through choppy conversations, a bond was made.
It was hard not to like Ricardo.  He was just a fun kid to be around.
In 2015, we were living in Guatemala when Ricardo contacted me to tell me that he was going to be a father. You could just feel his pride and excitement coming through his messages.  "What a huge blessing!" I told him.  "Being a father will be one of the hardest yet most rewarding things you ever do."
We crossed paths with Ricardo occasionally when we were in the Guatemala City. We would usually see him while he was working- driving a packed micro-bus with the windows down, the music turned up, but still always smiling. He would honk and wave as he passed when he saw either of us.  His joy was radiant.

Yesterday, I received news that at only 20 years old, Ricardo was killed yesterday in the same place where I first met him. It hit us hard, yet we can't imagine the sadness that his family and closer friends feel.

We ask your prayers for his girlfriend and toddler son, as well as the rest of his family and friends. Their world has just been shattered.

He was far too young to be killed so soon.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Matthew 5:4

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Lessons Learned in the Importance of Families

James and Ellie Carr
The mission field is truly a humbling place.  One thing we've learned over and over is that there is always room to learn more.  Before moving to Guatemala, we studied Spanish using Rosetta Stone.  I would have said that I had a good knowledge of the Spanish language.  Then we moved to Guatemala, where I couldn't understand even the clearest of Spanish speakers.  It took nine months of intensive one-on-one classes for me to begin to feel comfortable with basic conversations.  Although we have both reached points where we feel comfortable teaching, explaining, and carrying conversations in Spanish, we both realize that it is something we will always be learning.
"Finishing" language school in September 2015
"Finishing" language school in September 2015

Another facet that we have really been faced with lately is the theme of reunifying families.  Since the tragedy at the Hogar Seguro in March (you can read more about that here), Guatemala has had a major push to reunite families, rather than leaving children in institutionalized care.  My feelings about this change were initially mixed, but the more I research, pray, and observe, the more I understand the benefits of children being with their parents, even in cases of pretty severe poverty.

When we were preparing to move to Guatemala, we met with a church in Georgia seeking their support.  We explained that we were preparing to work with an organization in an impoverished area of Guatemala City, where it was common for people to live on the equivalent of only a couple of dollars per day.  We told the church's missions committee that we would be house parents to adolescent boys from the area who would come to live with our family and receive a better education,  nutritious meals, and overall more hope and greater opportunities for their future.

The committee seemed incredulous.

"Do you understand how it may harm these boys to take them away from their families?" they asked us.  "We think you have a very nice idea, but think it is dangerous and unwise to remove boys from their families."

I continued to explain how most of the mothers of the boys worked long hours for the little money that they earned, leaving the boys to roam their dangerous neighborhood.  I explained how the fathers were largely absent from the lives of the boys.  That didn't seem to matter to the committee.

"These people just don't understand the amount of poverty these boys live in," I reasoned to myself.  "They don't understand the dangers these boys live in each and every day."

But they did. They had travelled to third-world countries. They knew the statistics. They were aware of the dangers that pervaded slum neighborhoods.

They also understood the importance of family in the lives of these boys.  The valued what family the boys had, even though it may be far from ideal and broken by sin.

I was blind to their ideas that day.  In fact, it's been years since that unforgotten conversation, and I am just now beginning to understand their viewpoint.

We no longer work for that organization, but instead work for a children's home.  It is a home for orphaned, neglected, and abused children who have been court-appointed to live here.  While we do not pick what children come here nor are we offering children an alternative lifestyle to poverty as our initial organization offered, the end result is the similar in this way- children are living outside of their original families.
Riley with several of the kids here at Fundaniños


As I mentioned earlier, there has been a large shift in recent months of appointing children to go back to live with what family they have.  Last month alone we saw three sets of siblings, and also a boy and a girl reunited with family members- parents, adult siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.  It has been fulfilling to say the least, although some come with mixed feelings, such as the boy returning to live with his mom who has little resources, several other children, and a long history of prostitution.

What I am learning in spite of my feelings, though, is the importance of family over institutional care.  Families can offer something that we can't, no matter how impoverished they are.  While we love each and every one of the children here and they will always have a special place in our hearts, we cannot replace their families and we will never be able to love them in the same way as a nuclear family can.  Families were created to do a job that organizations and institutions just can't.  While we provide a safe place away from situations of abuse and neglect, we cannot stop there.  We must continue to work with families to seek solutions to the problems they face.  Simply taking children away from the problem is not a solution to the problem itself.  I am learning how important the role of social services is in providing resources, encouragement, and direction to families that lead them to restoration and reunification.  While we play a part in the process of taking care of the abused, neglected, and orphaned children, we cannot settle for being the end of that process.  Work needs to be done to bring families to a healthier state to allow children to be reinstated, and it would not be justifiable for me to downplay the role of adoptive families when that restoration is not possible.

I am still learning more.  Leaning about what is truly in the best interest of families and children.  Learning to be a better parent myself. Learning not to discredit the ideas of others even though they may sound foreign to me.  Learning to listen.  Learning to seek more than one possible solution.  Learning to admit being wrong.  Leaning that being wrong isn't the end, but rather the beginning.  And even more, I am still learning to learn.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tragedy

James and Ellie Carr
I don't really know where to begin with this post.  My heart aches this morning.  Every day this week has brought a new burden involving children in our area.  I don't know what will be next, but want to give you a glimpse of what is going on in our lives this week and to ask for your prayers for the hurting children here.  The need has been constant, but is often easy to ignore- even living here in Guatemala.  The events of this week cry out for help, for deliverance.

"We need you, Lord."

Monday, Fundaniños was scheduled to receive two new children- brothers- from the government home located directly behind Fundaniños less than a mile from us.  The home is known for operating way over capacity, and having minimal resources for the children who live there.  It is seen by many locals as a breeding ground for future criminals and a place where the abuse kids have suffered before entering "the system" is only intensified.  You may have read about our brief but chilling visit within the home a few moths ago here.

View of the hills separating Fundaniños and Hogar Seguro in Aldea El Platanar, San Jose Pinula
Late Monday afternoon, the brothers arrived with two backpacks of belongings each- more than most kids have upon their arrival here.  They were ushered into the dining hall while several Fundaniños staff met to go over their transfer papers.  Small talk was made with the boys to lessen the visible tension they were experiencing, but talking was too much.  Drawing near to each other, both boys began sobbing.

A few minutes later with cups of purified water to drink, the older of the boys leaned over and whispered to me, "Is this where we are going to live now?"  Unfortunately, I had no answer to give him.  The documented profiles of each of the boys was vastly different than the profiles referred by our internal social worker, and the further into the profiles we read, the more we realized that approving their entry in Fundaniños would only place the children who already live here at risk.  There were too many red flags, and the boys who arrived were ultimately not the ones Fundaniños had agreed to receive.  The transfer was denied by Fundaniños, and the kids returned that evening to the government home.

Fast forward to yesterday as I was driving down our narrow dirt road on my way to Guatemala City, I passed a police truck.  Four officers quickly got out of the truck, leaning over a nearby barbed-wire fence studying the field beyond closely.  It was obvious that they were looking for somebody.  Not long after I received a call from James.  He told me that there had been an escape from the same government home.  He said a group of adolescents, most of whom were dressed in black, had crossed Fundaniños' property and continued down the dirt road.  Not long after, several police trucks followed.
The dirt road to Fundaniños where many of the children were seen fleeing the government home.
We read late last night in the news that at least sixty children had escaped as a result of several incidents and uprisings within the home yesterday.  These are kids who have been removed from their families due to situations of abuse or neglect.  Some are orphans.  They have been moved from one bad situation to another, and yet decided yesterday that life on the streets or back with their broken families outweighed the risks that accompanied an attempted escape and was better than life in the government home.  My heart broke last night for the kids who might not be found and were spending the night lost on the streets of Guatemala.

The conflict I feel knowing that the kids here at Fundaniños have so much that we are able leave our gate unlocked and unattended without much risk of an escape is hard to reconcile.  Each day, we say goodbye to kids who walk or bike into the nearby pueblo to attend technical school there.  Some teens venture as far as Guatemala City for school, but return to Fundaniños each night.  They know are part of a family here.  I can't yet clearly put that knowledge into words with the contrasted destitution, abuse, and spiritual darkness of the home only a few thousand feet from where we live.

This morning, we were burdened with more news from the same government home.  The riots within the home continued into this morning resulting in a massive fire.  The most recent death count states that 19 people were killed in the fire- all minors- teenage girls from what we've heard.  Images of their charred bodies already fill our news feeds.  Twenty or thirty others have been transferred to public hospitals with second, third, and fourth-degree burns.  Fifty disabled children have been reported to be transferred out of the home for their own safety according to the morning news.

Images of SWAT teams entering the home and parents lining the street behind us to hear updates about the status of their children fill our news today.  The situation is heartbreaking.  The count of those who have died or been injured within the home continues to rise.

We ask your prayers for the children in the home, for those admitted to local hospitals, and for the broken and hurting families who have yet to have contact with their children.  Pray for the violence that many children view as the only answer to their hurting situations.  Pray for the broken and overcrowded system with thousands abused, neglected, and orphaned children trapped in unhealthy environments with no resolution in sight.

We don't have the answers.  We can't help them all.  We pray that the two boys we encountered briefly on Monday were not involved in what happened this week.  Their faces continue to flash before me.  Where are they now?  What have their young eyes witnessed?  Did they know during their visit on Monday about the dangers awaiting them in the government home this week?  What we can provide seems minimal in comparison to the massive tragedies right now.  Our hearts break with knowledge of the pain that children suffer so close to us.


"We need YOU, Lord."



***Most recent death toll from fire-related injuries- 40 as of 3/12/17

 Rosa Julia Espino Tobar
Indira Jarisa Pelicó
Daria Dalila López Meda
Achly Gabriela Méndez Ramírez
Yemmi Aracely Ramírez Siquín
Jaqueline Paola Catinac López
Siona Hernández García
Josselyn Marisela García Flores
Mayra Haydeé Chután Urias
Skarleth Yajaira Pérez Jiménez
Yohana Desiré Cuy Urízar
Rosalinda Victoria Ramírez Pérez
Madelin Patricia Hernández
Sarvía Isel Barrientos Reyez
Ana Nohemí Morales Galindo
Ana Rubidia Chocooj Chúta
Jilma Sucely Carias López
Yoselin Beatriz Ventura López
Grindi Yasmin Carías López
Mari Carmen Ramírez Melgar
Keila Rebeca López Salguero
Kimberly Mishel Palencia Ortiz
Nancy Paola Vela García
Estefany Sucely Veliz Pablo
Lilian Andrea Gómez Arceno
Mirza Rosmery López Tojil
Ana Roselia Pérez Sinay
Grisna Yamileth Cu Uluan
Melani Yanira de León Palencia
Luisa Fernanda Joj González

Monday, February 27, 2017

Strength from Weakness

James and Ellie Carr

She is so perfect. Okay, so maybe I'm a little biased, but come on.

Daily I wonder if I'm doing what's best for her. Am I hovering too much as her mom? None of the other kids she plays with have parents that hover like I do- most have no parent to speak of, yet they have mastered skills coordination far beyond Riley's abilities.

Then I'm reminded by her missing front tooth and the thin red scar on her chin of the times I wasn't there to catch her. I see her frequent battles with the colds, stomach bugs, and lice that constantly circulate through everyone living in the walls of the children's home. 

There is so much to this parenting thing that I have no answers to. What I know I can count on are God's promises. When He said, "Follow Me," He didn't say it would be easy, and it hasn't. But He also didn't say, "Follow Me until you have kids, and then I'll take back seat for them."

What He did say is that no matter where He calls us He would go before us. Not only that, but He would be with us on our journey- through the mountain tops AND the valleys, through proud parenting moments AND the tears.
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11
I think about how His promise in Jeremiah 29:11 not only applies to me, but to her as well. He has great plans for her- not to harm her, but to prosper her. He has plans for her future as well as for mine.

Life isn't easy.

Parenting isn't easy.

But I know whose side I'm on.

And He is for me.

And Riley.

And He is for you too.

But we have to be all in.

Sold out for Him.

I don't have all the answers as a parent, and I make mistakes- a lot of them. But thankfully I serve a God who has all the answers and shows me grace in my weaknesses. In spite of the pressures of social media, peers, and the enemy, my hope as a mom is in a God who is greater. In that I take comfort.

Guatemala Intermissions Conference 2017
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Monday, January 2, 2017

Year-End Update

James and Ellie Carr
Happy New Year!  We hope you are having a wonderful start to 2017.  We wanted to share with you a brief update of some of the work we were involved in throughout 2016 as well as our plans moving into 2017 as Subdirectors at Fundaniños Children's Home.  The month of December was an extremely busy month for us, as the home directors here at Fundaniños were on furlough to the States, increasing our job responsibilities, and we were extremely grateful for their return on New Year's Eve.  Their time away made us extremely grateful for the amount of willing hands we have here normally, and also helped us grow more into our roles by taking on more responsibility for the children who live here and their direct caregivers.

As for the rest of the year, it was filled with ups and downs in ministry, but we are so thankful for where God has led us, the doors He has opened for true worship through service, and His truths that He has made evident to us throughout the year.  Below is a list of just a few of the highlights from the past 12 months of ministry in Guatemala-
(un)adopted® training in February
  • James began the year serving as Team Coordinator at our previous ministry.  He coordinated and helped lead several week-long stays for teams from across the U.S. who were working in the slums of Guatemala City.
  • We attended Lifeline Children's Service's (un)adopted® training to learn more about holistic and sustainable orphan care in February.
  • In February, we also attended our first intermissions conference in Guatemala- a time for international missionaries in Guatemala to learn, fellowship, and network together.
  • In a process that began in Fall 2015, James was able to help one young man living in the slums of Guatemala City find his birth records at a small hospital, obtain a legal birth certificate, and register with the Guatemalan government so that he can begin attending school, and one day have a legitimate job and legally marry opening many doors for this young man's future- a lengthy process, but so worth it for Juanes and his family!
  • Ellie visited two young mothers in local pueblos to bring them food and encouragement after they recently gave birth.
  • Over the summer we taught approximately 96 hours of English classes to about 20 boys in the slums of Guatemala City.
  • In June, we helped coordinate and hosted a retreat for six boys from the slums of Guatemala City.
  • In mid-July, we moved from a charity we felt God was calling us away from to our position as Subdirectors Fundaniños Children's Home where we have been able to truly and openly serve in a much fuller capacity.
  • Initiated small groups with boys and girls within the home to disciple teens in a more intimate environment and setting.
  • Assumed responsibility for leading weekly meetings with and overseeing the direct caregivers at Fundaniños.
  • Collected and bought much needed food and vitamins for a needy and malnourished family in Guatemala City.
  • Counseled and coordinated the baptism of one teenage girl, and initiated countless purposeful and direct conversations to disciple boys and girls.
  • Took charge of onsite discipline within Fundaniños.
James tutoring a boy in English in Guatemala City.

Juanes the day his registration process was complete!
We have many hopes and goals for serving God in 2017.  Here are a couple of the things we are preparing to accomplish in the coming year-
  • Restart and direct small discipleship groups for teens at Fundaniños.
  • Create and implement health, hygiene, and sexual education classes for adolescents at Fundaniños.
  • Oversee and facilitate weekly Bible classes in Fundaniños' onsite school.
  • Initiate daily devotions for younger children within the four houses at Fundaniños.
  • Work with Fundaniños' independence committee to plan and carry out monthly service projects with kids in the local community.
  • Use Trust-Based Relational Intervention® curriculum by Dr. Karyn Purvis to train and equip caregivers here at Fundaniños.
  • Continue weekly meetings with caregivers to support and direct them in their roles.
  • Continue direction of discipline as well as positive reinforcement within the home.
  • Continue one-on-one discipling with children and adloscents here at Fundaniños.
  • Partner with the local church body to reinforce Biblical teaching to kids at Fundaniños through youth groups, Sunday School, and other church-related events.
  • Continue supporting roles in daily activities of home (facilitating meals, transporting children to various appointments, etc.)
Ellie taking part in the December 2016 service project
with the kids at Fundaniños.
James (and Riley) in conversation with one of the girls at
Fundaniños.
We thank God for the opportunities that He has given us over the past year, and thank you for helping us serve Him in the ways above through your prayers, encouragement and support.  We ask for your prayers as we enter 2017- that our focus would always be to bring glory to the King rather than to our own selves or completing a list of tasks.

Happy New Year!
James + Ellie

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