Monday, December 22, 2008

A Light Has Dawned


To read a printable version of this post, click on www.micahcentral.org/blogs/jeffblogdec.doc .


“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:1-4)


Jefferson’s baptism on Sunday was in an ideal place. The house that his church chose to baptize five new Christians had a pool that overlooks the entire city of Tegucigalpa. The sweeping view of the city on this crystal clear, warm December day also included the mountains that stretch beyond the limits of this capital city and on into the horizon. A view which invites long, reflective thoughts.


But even more ideal than place was the timing of Jefferson’s baptism. What better way to celebrate Christ’s birth than with a baptism? As Jefferson’s pastor plunged him into the depths of the cool mountain water, the very act recalled that fact that Christ, though King, immersed himself into a dark and vicious world that could not stand to be in the presence of such searing light. That sense of drowning, of losing control as the pastor’s hand takes away your ability to breathe, to see…mustn’t Christ have experienced a similar loss when he plunged himself into a blind and drowning world?


Yet just as Jefferson plunged down, he was also raised up again, up toward the sparkling blue sky of that December morning. His Savior's resurrection provided him a passageway from darkness to light…a soul cleansed from impurities in order to be presented unblemished before the throne of light. And that, again, is the Christmas message: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)


Jefferson’s baptism on Sunday was the absolute best way to celebrate Christmas. It is better than Christmas trees, better than brightly wrapped presents, even better than candlelit ceremonies. It proclaims that Christ’s light broke through the darkness to redeem the most unredeemable of lives. Jefferson, who grew up in a shack in one of Tegucigalpa’s poorest neighborhoods, whose father’s way of dealing with a dark world is by submerging his sorrows in alcohol; Jefferson, who even this month was weeping over the fact that the gangs had issued a death warrant for his younger brother…even Jefferson, with his shadow-of-death back-story, can so boldly proclaim the mystery of his faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Even in this life that seemed destined to drown in sorrow at a young age, Jefferson’s decision to publicly proclaim his hope in a just and loving heavenly Father brings great joy to my heart. Indeed, in these times of economic uncertainty and in this place in which darkness still seems to inflict damaging blows, the words “Merry Christmas” sometimes ring a bit hollow. Jefferson’s baptism serves as a reminder that Christmas is about salvation, about hope of eternal life, about preparing for that day in which His light will destroy darkness once and for all. It is the utmost joy.

Joyeux noël,

Michael Miller

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holy Discontent

Above: Hector and Jose Daniel and our long-suffering dog Mocha

Click here to read a printable version of this post.

He came to us dirty and disheveled one cold night, a little boy dressed like an old street man. The grime caked on his feet and legs turned his brown limbs charcoal black. Wrapped in a smelly old coat that dragged practically to his ankles, he arrived at the Micah House simply to ask for a little food and maybe a warm place in which to eat it.

He never asks for much from us. He is content with the little plates of food that our street team takes to him a couple days a week. Content, as a twelve year old, with the little corner of the outdoor market in which he curls up every night to sleep. Especially, he’s content with the bottle of yellow glue that he buys every day to feed his craving, to get high, to forget. His life may be meaningless, but he is happy enough to get up the next day in order to begin to forget all over again, inhaling the glue into his body until its warmth spreads all over. To him, it’s a pleasant way to forget. He’s content.

Hector’s ragged appearance that night didn’t surprise us. In the two years that we have known him through our street ministry, we have grown accustomed to seeing this little boy in the trappings of a street urchin. What is it about the human brain that allows us to grow accustomed to the sight of a child on the streets? Why is it that we are able create mental categories such as “urchin”, “beggar”, “vagrant” in order to find a tidy little way to understand and accept the plight of these children? Of course Hector’s dirty and smelly…he’s a street urchin!

A few weeks ago, God used a Saturday field trip to confuse my mental categories. Our street team had invited Hector to go to a park with the rest of the Micah boys. When he arrived at our house, one of our boys lent him a clean pair of shorts and a t-shirt. He spent a glorious day splashing around in the swimming pool, riding horses into the mountains, playing soccer with the other boys. His laughs and playful shouts reverberated through the park all day long.

Hector was allowed to be a little boy for almost a full day. And seeing him happily running from one little boy activity to the next produced a great discontent in my heart. This is what being a child should be about! Not holding the bottle of yellow glue between your teeth so that you can use both hands to dig through the dumpster. Hector was created to be a boy, not an urchin. The word urchin is necessitated by the fall, not by creation itself. No child should be doomed to this misfortune.

So when he showed up on our doorstep on that cold night, a few days later, we were no longer willing to accept the idea of a street urchin. When he asked for a little food, we were no longer able to let him live by bread alone. When we lent him some clean clothes, we couldn’t accept that changing his outward appearance was enough. And, when he wandered into my office later that night and whispered into my ear, “Michael, can I live here forever?” we were no longer willing to let him live on the streets another day.

In the end, discontent is not a bad thing. Sure, it’s an awesome thing that Hector has now completed his first month at the Micah House. But one of his fellow urchins, José Daniel, still comes to our door a couple of days a week, glue bottle in hand, asking for a little to eat. He is the new focus of our discontent, a holy discontent that moves us to restore these kids as God’s children.

At the Micah Project, our discontent at the plight of children who live in the streets is seasoned with hope. This hope knows that the transformation from street urchin to child of God is not only possible; it is one of God’s favorite ways of glorifying His name! Nine years into the Micah Project, we have the proof: Marvin and Tino are months away from their college degree, Oscar is getting ready to join YWAM for six months as a missionary, David is about to become a psychologist. Marvin Morazán is going to Mexico to study music and theology in January, joining Danilo who has already been there a year. Olvin is considering a Masters Degree. There is great contentment…joy, really…in watching God transform these guys into His men—men of character and vision. Hearing their plans and dreams, I catch not only a desire for a better life, but also a better world…a world in which the word “urchin” is devoid of meaning.

Even as I write this letter though, reflecting on what God will do through our guys, I catch a glimpse of our security camera’s image out of the corner of my eye. José Daniel is at the front door, looking for some food to eat. We invite him in, let him take a shower to wash the grime off, give him a clean shirt. He will play video games with the other Micah boys for a while and maybe some basketball. We will ask if he wants to stay, but he will make excuses in an hour or two and will head back to the streets. On his way out the door, he will round the corner of our house to dig his glue bottle out of the hole in which he has hidden it.

This is José Daniel’s pattern, and it is the current disquiet in my heart. José Daniel still believes himself to be a street urchin. It will take many hours and months of work by the dedicated and gutsy Micah Project missionaries to convince him otherwise. It will take the prayers of many people to break through the chains of addiction that keep him on the street.

It is my prayer that the success of the older Micah boys will bring joy and hope to your hearts. But it is also my prayer that Jose Daniel will produce discontent, for he should not be living on the streets. It is my prayer that you will join us in moving from discontent into action on behalf of these young men.

That action can take many forms. You can go to our website, http://www.micahcentral.org/ and choose a boy from the biography page to pray for every day. You can write him letters or send emails to encourage him. You can come on a mission trip next year, and become a part of our boys’ extended family. You can make a monthly commitment to support the Micah Project financially, in a year in which our income has been very low due to the current worldwide recession. You can provide the means for our older boys to graduate from college or attend technical schools, and for us to take more boys like Hector and José Daniel off the streets.

This year, we have made it easier for you to help. On our website, you can click the “Donate Now” button to make an online donation. Or you can send a check to our new U.S. mailing address: “The Micah Project”, P.O. Box 10098, Houston, TX 77206. Your support over the last nine years has already produced great fruit in many lives. As the Micah Project staff, we thank you for being a part of those victories, for giving generously and praying often for our young men.

And, with that same hopeful disquiet of heart, we will let you know just as soon as José Daniel becomes the next Micah boy.

Your brother in Christ,

Michael Miller
http://www.micahcentral.org/

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wow

Above: Micah supporters man our booth and FPC's missions fair on Sunday, November 16. Below, Marvin Morazan sings "My Two Eyes" during FPC's services.


Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea. Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity.


As the First Presbyterian Church choir headed into the last verse of the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy this Sunday, Marvin Morazan's one word response was "wow". The organ let loose on the last verse, and as the sopranos in the choir reached for higher octaves, the whole sanctuary seemed to shake in angelic harmony. Marvin, who has grown up on Latin rythms and urban hip-hop, learned a new way to worship God.


Actually, Marvin's whole attitude since arriving in Houston last Friday can be summed up in the many "wows" that he has uttered. Wow as we rushed past the gleaming skyline on the way in from the airport, wow as he looked up at the highway overpasses flying off into the sky in all directions, wow as he entered the beautiful homes of our hosts. All so different from his home in Tegucigalpa, all so new.


But the great thing about this weekend is that Houston has been just as wowed by Marvin Morazan as he was by Houston. He performed one of his songs in all four services at First Presbyterian Church yesterday; appropriately, he performed "My Two Eyes" (I never thought I would come this far...I never thought I'd see with my two eyes/the kind of place that I see in dreams, only comes through when You're here with me...) Every time, he got up on stage, it was as if the Spirit infused his words and his guitar. He spoke briefly of what God has done in his life in words so clear that it surprised even his English teacher Becca Haver. Then, the passion with which he sang his song filled the sanctuary as powerfully as the majestic pipe organ had only minutes earlier.


Wow. I've heard Marvin's sing his songs a thousand times, but I wept freely as he sang on Sunday. A young man, rejected by his family in his youth, locked up by his society for being a kid without a family...now becomes a powerful witness to God's transforming love. Wow.


We will be in the States until Monday, November 24. Becca Haver and her fiancee John Bell are here with us and will travel to St. Louis with us this Wednesday to continue to spread the good word of what God is doing through the Micah Project. Marvin will be doing a concert at Central Presbyterian Church on Wednesday night...all are invited! If you would like to get ahold of us while in the States, call my cell phone (314-520-6033). Also, please pray for our missionaries Roger, Dan, Kamia and David as they hold down the fort in Tegucigalpa in our absence.


Muchas gracias,

Michael Miller

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cold nights and changed lives

Above: Hector hangs out with Mocha on a recent Micah outing. Below:
Michael spends some time with Hector during a recent street outreach in
the market district of Tegucigalpa.


To read a printable version of this post, click on www.micahcentral.org/blogs/Hectorblogoct08.doc



As I write this, I have a little street boy named Hector looking over my shoulder. He can’t read or write, and when I asked him for his birthday, he didn’t know. He thinks that he is thirteen, although to look at him, you’d think that he is eight or nine. He just had breakfast with the other Micah boys, and came in to ask me something before our devotional time in a few minutes.

“Michael, can I stay here forever?”

Honestly, I wasn’t too surprised by the question, since he asked me the same question last night before bed. Even so, the question stopped me in my tracks. One answer, yes or no, could determine the future course of this young life. So…what do I say?

We have gotten to know Hector well through our street ministry over the last year. He occasionally lives with his dad, who sells fruit out of a wheelbarrow in the market area of Tegucigalpa, but most of the time, his addiction to yellow glue keeps him on the streets.

As we have gotten to know Hector, both on the streets and through the Saturday outings that he occasionally joins us on, we have found a sweet kid with a pleasant personality. Even so, whenever we have talked to him about joining the Micah Project, he can never see clearly enough through the fog of his addiction to accept our offer. .

Lately, though, his defenses have been lowering little by little as he has come to trust us more. Last night, a “cold front” came through Honduras, with temperatures in the 50s (okay, I know that’s nothing to cry about, but for Hondurans, it’s considered a deep freeze!). Hector came up to the Micah House looking for food in an old battered coat that was about three times his size. After feeding him, we decided to let him sleep in the house so that he wouldn’t have to spend a cold night on the streets.

So put yourself in my shoes. The kid spent a peaceful night of sleep in the Micah House. Now, he has his arm around you, shivering from the cold air, asking if you will take him in. You know that if you say no, or not right now, or we will talk about it as a staff and get back to you, you are sending him back to the streets, and closing this window of opportunity that the cold air has shaken open. So…Can Hector stay with us forever? My answer is: I sure hope so!

Now we are praying that one cold night might be the turning point in Hector’s life. The glue addiction is strong; both Wilmer and little Marvin, who joined us in June of 2007, are still struggling to overcome theirs. To truly overcome the addiction to glue and to street life in general, the following things are indispensable: personal determination, a unified group of people at Micah that are willing to help every step of the way, and a constant sense that there is something better waiting for them in the future. And…of course…lots and lots of people praying.

We’ll let you know how it goes!

I also wanted to update you on the flooding here in Honduras as well. I was just up at the public school two blocks from the Micah House. There are almost forty families in the school that have either lost their homes or have been forcibly evacuated from them because of fear of landslides. Though the rain has pretty much stopped, at least in Tegucigalpa, the ground is incredibly saturated, and anyone who lives in wooden shacks clinging to hillsides, which is a common site in Tegucigalpa, is at risk of a landslide.

We continue to help out the families in the shelter when we can. We have provided dinner at the shelter and continue to provide supplies when they run out. I have talked to several of the families in the shelter, and they are not sure how long they will be there or if they will be allowed to return to their homes once things dry out. Additionally, we have helped two families rent small rooms in order to get them out of dangerous situations. One of the families is Maycol’s mom, whose shack is beginning to tilt dangerously downhill. A few of our guys helped her and her family move to safer ground yesterday. We will see what happens to these families once this time of crisis passes.

This week is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Mitch’s destructive passage through Honduras. The BBC has written a good report on Honduras ten years after Mitch. You can link to it here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7682412.stm .

I appreciate your prayers for Hector and for the victims of the recent flooding!

Muchas gracias,

Michael Miller

Friday, October 24, 2008

Flooding leaves thousands homeless in Honduras

Photos: The Micah boys take donations into the school in our community for the families that have lost their homes. The hill in the background is one of the at-risk areas for landslides.


This month is the ten year anniversary of hurricane Mitch, a category five storm that left Honduras in tatters, which blew through Honduras in the last week of October, 1998. Like some kind of nightmarish déjà vu , three weeks of solid rains this month have left people describing it as "hurricane Mitch in slow motion." According to the Honduran newspaper El Heraldo, 29 people have died and 670,000 have been affected by the flooding or landslides. And according to a report on Reuters, "more than 800mm (almost three feet) of rain has fallen over the past several days in some areas - more than the total rainfall unleashed by the devastating Hurricane Mitch 10 years ago." (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/fromthefield/241510/122479013349.htm) The President has declared a national emergency, and relief agencies are gearing up to help.





Just two blocks from the Micah House, 35 families have been moved into the public elementary school after losing their homes in mudslides. This morning, some of the Micah boys and I bought food, water and diapers for the families in the makeshift shelter (see photos above). The families are divided into the different classrooms of the school, and school officials and neighbors are coordinating the distribution of aide.





When we talked to the woman in charge of the shelter at our neighborhood school, she said that certain areas of our neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods are at risk of greater damage in the days to come. Because many houses are built with sub-standard practices and are literally clinging to the side of hills, the rain is saturating the foundations to the point that they give way.





One of our boy's families, that of little Maycol, is living in one of these at risk areas. Their home...a shack really...is built on three rotting stilts, which hold up the wooden floor. Even three weeks ago, the downhill side of the house started to sink. Today, we may move the family temporarily in order to avoid the danger of a landslide. For now, we may put them in a spare room at our Leadership House until we can find a more permanent solution.





I will keep you apprised of the situation here in our neighborhood and in Honduras.





Muchas gracias,





Michael Miller

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Them is Us, Part Two: the Glory of the Burden

Above: Eduardo (black shirt) and some other neighborhood youth hold Claudio’s casket in our pick-up as we drive to the cemetery.

To read this post in printable form, click here: www.micahcentral.org/blogs/Claudio.doc



I had already felt burdened that weekend in September when I found out on Sunday that Claudio had been killed. The day before, we had taken the Micah boys to a park in the mountains outside Tegucigalpa for a day of swimming and horse-back riding. Along with the boys in our group homes, we also took a couple of street kids, two boys with whom we have been developing a relationship through our street ministry. I had gotten used to seeing kids like Jose Daniel and Axel in the market area, dousing their reality in yellow glue and living every day on the edge of survival. After ten years of working with street kids, my normal encounters with them leave me saddened, but not devastated.

But something changed on this sunny Saturday in September. Seeing Jose Daniel and Axel splashing around in the pool, riding horses into the mountains, and doing all the other things that little boys should be able to do; in other words, seeing them removed from their daily nightmare on the streets, reminded me how utterly and totally wrong it is that they have to grow up on the streets. “Wrong” in the sense of contrary to God’s original plan for His children. When Axel and Jose Daniel went back to the streets after their Saturday with us, I was left with an incredible heaviness in my heart.

I was carrying that heaviness around with me on Sunday throughout our church service and lunch afterwards with our guys at the Micah House. It was just after lunch that a young man from our neighborhood came by the door of the Micah House to let us know that Claudio had been murdered the night before.

Twenty-one year old Claudio and I had just been getting to know each other. Well, that’s not exactly true: I’d known him for years as Caño (Con-yo), a dangerous gang member in our neighborhood whom we usually tried to avoid as much as possible. He often came by the Micah House to ask for food, although he was an expert at asking in a way that made it clear that we should give him what he asked for or else.

If you’ve read my past blogs about Laje and Ole, you know that God has been trying to get me to see young men like Claudio through His eyes. Claudio and his equally notorious older brother Eduardo (who goes by the street name Chifín…Chee-feen) noticed that change in me, and for a couple of months had been coming by the Micah House almost daily to talk. Claudio had just been released after doing two years in the national penitentiary. Shortly after his release, a rival gang member saw him walking through the market and took a shot at him; the bullet lodged in his arm, but his life was spared.

As I began to have my nightly chats with Claudio, I realized that both the jail time and the close encounter with a bullet had shaken him, and, as a result, he was at a crossroads. I agreed to help him pay for his surgery; it would cost about $400 to remove the bullet from his arm and to get his shattered bone set. For some reason, the fact that I was willing to help gave him great hope. In his mind, the surgery would be his new lease on life.

One night, the week before the surgery, Claudio came to our door but refused to come in. He was standing on the street corner, waving me to come out. When I walked over to him, he said that he didn’t want anyone else to hear what he was going to say. “Uh-oh”, I thought to myself, “what has he done now?” “Michael”, he said, “when this surgery is all over, I really want to change my life. I don’t want to stay in the same hole I have been in for so long.” Surprisingly soft-spoken for a gangster, Claudio was at this moment taking the biggest risk of his life by exposing the hurt of his soul to me.

I responded by urging him to give his life to God…to let the past be the past and to trust God with his future. Claudio nodded reflectively, and I asked him to come back so that we could keep talking about these things.

That was the last time I ever saw him. A few days later, in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, a police pick-up truck dumped Claudio’s body off at the morgue. No explanation was given as to how he died. In society’s eyes, he was just another nameless casualty of the savagery of street life.

That Sunday night, my heart was burdened to the breaking point. I was still thinking about the great day that Jose Daniel and Axel had with us the day before, feeling an enormous burden to provide them with something more than a day away from the streets. At 8:30 in the evening, the whole Micah Project gathered together for our weekly time of worship and prayer. I knew that as soon as I started the meeting, the sorrow in my heart would overwhelm the dikes of propriety and come spilling out of my lips.

As soon as I began to explain to the boys why I felt so burdened, though, there was a pounding on the door of the Micah House. It was Claudio’s brother Eduardo. He had come to ask for some clothes that they could use so that they could dress Claudio for his burial. We brought Eduardo into our meeting, and I asked if I could pray for him. The Micah boys and I surrounded him and placed our hands on him. As I began to pray, I also began to weep—not just a tearing up of the eyes, but a welling over of the soul. When we finished praying for Eduardo, a couple of our boys ran off to get him a nice shirt and a pair of pants to dress Claudio. Then, I turned to face our boys again.

“What will stay with me the rest of my life,” I said to them with a voice so full of tears that I could only get the words out one-at-a-time, “is that for four years, I shut the door in Claudio’s face instead of helping him find his way to hope in his life. I want you all to know that I will never, ever shut the door in anyone’s face again.”

I know that sounds like guilt, which, according to modern thought, isn’t a proper emotion to have. But when we have a burden placed on our heart, a God-given burden that should move us to action, and we choose not to act, what better emotion than guilt than to remind us of what we need to do? I’ll take guilt over complacency any day.

The next day, which was supposed to have been the day of Claudio’s surgery, was the day of his funeral instead. We had offered to help Eduardo with the details, not realizing how necessary that help would be. When I walked up the hill to Claudio’s grandmother’s house, where the visitation was being held, I immediately had a better understanding of the chaos in which Claudio had lived his life. Both his mom and his dad, who had been separated for many years, were too drunk to make any funeral arrangements. His grandmother had the presence of mind to pay a couple of guys to go to the cemetery to prepare the plot for burial, but, beyond that, no one knew how to proceed. Most of the down-and-outers of our neighborhood were gathered around the small house; and the majority of them had been drinking since the night before.

We went back and got all three Micah Project cars and returned with them down the narrow path that led to the house. A few men from the neighborhood wrestled the casket down the steep embankment on which the house is set on and into the back of our pick-up. Claudio’s dad began to scream and curse that he wouldn’t let anyone bury his boy. He went after the casket to try to get it out of the pick-up. Once I went over and put my arm around him, though, he calmed down long enough to get in the car. On the way to the cemetery, his mom was nearly hysterical in the back seat. At one point, she cried, "My poor Claudio, at least he knew that he could always get something to eat at the Micah Project; at “least he never went hungry.”

We got as many people as we could from the neighborhood to the cemetery, but, once we arrived, we realized that there was still a long way to go before the grave was ready for burial. As we sat there with thirty or forty people from our neighborhood, Becca leaned over to me at one point and said, “this is the most hopeless group of people that I have ever seen in my entire life.” I looked around at them, many of whom had already lost friends and family members to violence, and I knew she was right. No funeral service was planned, no prayers or scripture reading; they were just viewing death as the last hopeless event in their sad and drifting lives. While the grave was dug, Claudio’s casket sat waiting in the back of our pick-up truck.

When the grave was finally done, almost three hours after we arrived at the cemetery, I asked the gathered group if I could say a prayer. We all bowed our heads, and I said a short prayer for Claudio’s family and friends. When I finished, everyone sat around in silence for a few minutes. Finally, a few men lifted the casket into the grave. When they got it in place, Claudio’s brother Eduardo took a handful of rocks and threw them at the casket. “Claudio, you son of a -----! You should have taken me with you!” With that, he turned and walked away and people began to drift off.

I write about these events in such detail not out of a sense of voyeurism…of taking too much interest in the misery of others. I guess that I write all of this to try to communicate to you all--and to process in my own heart--what it means to have a burden in our hearts for the lost of this world. I am coming to understand that this sense of heaviness…of grief, even…at what evil is still capable of doing is not a bad thing, depending on what we choose to do with it. Whether it is seeing Axel and Jose Daniel waste their lives in a fog of yellow glue, or trying to come to grips with Claudio’s death, I think that there are three responses to the lost of this world. One, we can be so over-burdened by the tragedy of this world that it can keep us in a state of helpless inertia…what difference can I possibly make? Two, we can keep the world far enough away from our own reality that the tragedy of the lost is nothing more than a thirty-second news story on the evening broadcast. Or, three, we can let the God-given burden for the lost move us to action.

That last place is where I want to be. I want to be like Jesus, who spent most of his time with the hopeless and helpless…with the dregs of His society. I want to have the same passion that He did when he cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…!” (Luke 13:34). Jesus knew the violence that reigned in the hearts of men, yet he still desired to make us His children.

I am a long way away from having that kind of compassion. But that is why I have begun to thank God that He has chosen to disquiet my heart for people like Claudio. I want to be burdened by the lost…if I don’t feel the weight of their hopelessness in my soul, then what else will spur me to action?

Even now, He is putting my commitment to the test. If there is one redeeming aspect to Claudio’s death, it is pushing his brother Eduardo ever closer to the arms of Christ. Eduardo comes by the Micah House almost every day. On some days, Becca’s fiancée John Bell, or one of our boys or I get to spend a few minutes encouraging him. I began to understand that Eduardo had begun seeking God when he hopefully, yet somewhat desperately, asked me last week if Claudio had accepted Christ before he died. Eduardo feels a sense of burden and deep regret for his slain brother; indeed, not too different from the burden that I now feel for Eduardo. While I used to give Claudio a few morsels of food when he came to our door, I now long to share with Eduardo the bread of life, so that he will never hunger again.

As long as God continues to show His hand at work, taking these hopeless lives and bringing them to Him, then I will see the burden for the lost as a glorious thing rather than something to be avoided. Sure, it comes with a heaviness of heart and soul, but often, it leads to rapturous joy when one of the lost ones comes back into the fold.

For us as Christians, the temporary burden that we feel for the lost pales in comparison to knowing that, one day, they may run into His arms and hear Him say, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29).

I pray that one day, Axel, Jose Daniel and Eduardo, and many like them, will find rest for their souls. Until that time, I will pray that my own soul remains burdened for them, and that this burden will roil around within me until it moves me to action.

Your brother in Christ,

Michael Miller

P.S. One of the street boys that we took to the park that day, 12 year old Axel, joined the Micah Project a few days later. He has now been with us for three weeks. There is another example of a burden turning into a great joy! More about Axel later!

P.P.S If you read my first blog called “Them is Us”, you will be glad to know that we were able to get Ole into a Christian rehabilitation center two weeks ago. We saw him last Sunday, and he is very excited about what God is teaching him there.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Them is Us

Above: the slums above Micah house
Below: Ole breaks in

To read this post in printable form, click here.

Many people ask me why I chose to put the Micah Project in such a violent and drug-infested neighborhood as the barrio in which we live here in Tegucigalpa. There are safer places…places farther removed from the difficulties of modern urban life. The simple answer, though, is this: we are called to be a light in the darkness. Even so, a stolen cell phone and a face-to-face encounter with the thief yesterday reminded me that being a light is easier said than done!

Lately, I have been so convicted in my own heart to do away with the “fortress mentality” of modern life that seeps into our Christianity as well. This mentality says that we need to build high walls, get better security systems, and even separate ourselves geographically from “bad people” in order to keep ourselves safe and keep our sense of comfort in tact. In our case, in order to combat potential break-ins at the Micah house, we have added more razor wire, installed security cameras, and even hired a night watchman.

The problem with the fortress mentality, though, is that it seems to go against the very heart of the gospel. We have a stream of people that come to our door daily to ask for food or other assistance. Most of these people are pretty offensive to modern sensibilities: often, these men, women and children smell bad, or they’re hiding a bottle of yellow glue somewhere on their bodies, or their request for food comes out more like a demand…even a threat! Alas, one young street kid threw a rock at me a couple of weeks ago when the food I brought him wasn’t to his liking.

Because of these onerous qualities, it is SO tempting to want to shut our door tightly against these people and hope that they just go away. But an idea comes to me at the back of my mind (one that I’m pretty sure is true), that if this were Jesus’ house, He would not have just handed food through the door; He would have invited these folks in so that they could join him at the dinner table! I even have the sneaking suspicion that he would ask me to give up my chair at the table and go into the kitchen to serve these gruff and unlikable people. And, I’m pretty sure that I’d obey (He is Lord, after all), but in the back of my mind I’d be thinking, “why does He eat with sinners?” (For His reply to my grumblings, read Mark 2:17).

Can God really love these drug addicts and hoodlums as much as He loves me? Look at all that I’m doing for Him, after all! Can’t He see that? My mind can come up with a million reasons to defend myself in the eyes of God and to keep the wretched at arm’s length…to create an “us versus them” mentality. But then God’s words keep seeping into my reality (“there is no one righteous, not even one…they have together become worthless”) and makes me remember that THEM IS US (with apologies to my English-teacher mom).

We are the ones who should be standing at the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven, grateful for any scraps that God would choose to throw our way. It is only because of His incredible mercy that He adopted us as sons and daughters in His kingdom...and absolutely not because of anything that we can say or do to earn it. Only because of His grace, we are on the inside looking out.

Many of my guys certainly understand this better than I do. Yesterday, we went to visit Jerson in the Christian rehab center where he is spending six months overcoming his lifelong addiction to drugs. At one point, he said to me, “if you had not come to Honduras, I would be either dead or on the streets.” Jerson understands that, if a few circumstances of his life had been different, he would have been one of these burned out souls coming to our door to beg. He understands God’s boundless grace to him despite his life of rebellion to God’s will. The question is…do I…middle-class college-graduate proud-to-be-from-the-most-prosperous-and-advanced country-in-the-world…do I understand that only God’s grace separates me from them?

So as God tries to teach me these things (again) this year, I’ve been trying to be obedient. I’ve been trying to talk with the people that come to our door…to help them when I can. Gosh, can these interactions expose my own weak sense of tolerance and mercy!

Yesterday, when we got home from church, we inadvertently left our van unlocked. One of our neighborhood thugs, a crack addict with the street name Ole (óh-lay) was at our door asking for lunch. Ole is the kind that, when he extends his right hand to ask for a handout, you’d better be sure you know what his left hand is doing. Anyway, Ole saw his chance, and he opened our van and stole the cell phone that was inside (see our surveillance camera footage of the event above). When our guys found out, they took off after him, but he quickly lost himself in the vast network of alleyways and shacks in the slum area that starts just a few blocks beyond the Micah House.

I spent the rest of the day feeling violated. I won’t share the R-rated version of my thoughts, but the general idea is “how can this ungrateful piece of trash ask for our help one minute and steal from us the next?” Shoving into the back of my mind that this is exactly what we do to God all the time…asking Him for things one moment and rebelling against Him the next…I decided that the world would be better off without Ole in it.

Last night, as I was preparing my classes for the coming week, I got a phone call. It was from one of our boys’ mom, who lives in the slum area where Ole went to hide. Ole’s current “wife” found out that he stole from us, and she went to tell our boy’s mom where he had pawned the phone. So off I go, at 9:00 p.m., into one of the most dangerous areas of Tegucigalpa. I met Ole’s wife, and she and I, along with our boy’s mom and stepdad, went in search of the phone.

We wound down stair-case after stair-case, alley after alley, until coming to the other side of this mountainous slum. When we got finally got to the woman’s house and asked her for the phone, she said that she had no idea what we were talking about. (It turns out that her business is buying stolen property and re-selling it for a profit). Ole’s wife called a neighbor’s cell phone to see if Ole was at home. When she said yes, we decided to climb back up the mountain into the heart of the slum to confront Ole head-on. After a few minutes of climbing, we came to a pitch-black stairway that led up to Ole’s shack. As I carefully picked my way up the stairs, I wondered what would happen if we found Ole. Would he attack? Would he claim ignorance? Would he sneer? Would he run?

When we finally got up to his shack, Ole was nowhere to be seen. But as we were getting ready to leave, one of the neighbor girls stuck her head out of her shack and pointed upward, indicating that he was hiding on the roof. When his wife found this out, she (ahem) impolitely screamed for him to get his --- off the roof. A dark form emerged, and Ole sullenly climbed down.

Ole just stood there, surrounded by accusatory looks. Then looked at me and spoke: “I am so sorry, Michael.”

That was not what I was expecting. Excuses, anger, threats, anything but a surprisingly sincere apology. At that moment, my heart melted. Finally, after a day of anger and thoughts of revenge, I was able to see Ole as Jesus would. This is a kid who was on the streets before he was out of diapers. A young man who has grown up just yards away from one of the most notorious drug dealers of Tegucigalpa—one who seemed practically destined to become a crackhead. One desperate enough to steal even from his friends when his need to consume crack overwhelms every other thought. Now I understood. His apology was laced with defeat, with self-hatred, with knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is the refuse of humankind.

In other words, exactly the kind of person that Jesus wants us to love.

After Ole’s apology, he joined our strange little group as we made our way back to the lady to whom he sold the phone. He stood there in front of her door as a circle of cross-armed people waited for him to make things right. He did, and the lady reluctantly gave the phone back, but not before berating him in words that would make a pirate blush.

So there we were, me, with the phone in my pocket, the Micah boy’s mom and step dad, Ole and his wife, and a couple of other people that had come along just to see what would happen...a little free entertainment on a sultry night in the slums. What do I say to Ole? Do I make this a moral lesson against the evils of theft and drug-use? Do I just glare at him and shake my head and confirm silently to him that he is trash?

I said, “I know how hard it is when addiction takes over your whole life.”

He responded, “I am so sorry, Michael.”

We talked a little longer. I encouraged him to come to the Micah House this week so that we can find a way to get him some help. We shook hands and parted ways.

Will Ole get help? Will he stop stealing from others to feed his addiction? The pastor who runs the Christian rehab program that we visited that same afternoon said that only about ten percent of the guys who go into the program are able to put their addiction behind them permanently. If that’s the case, then why bother?

Why bother? Because them is us. Because in the eyes of God, Ole is me. When I look at my brokenness, rebellion, lack of faith, lack of passion to do God’s will, the only thing that I can think to say to Him is “I am so sorry, Father.”

And that’s all it takes to be welcomed in as a son…an heir to His kingdom. Ole may think that he is the refuse of the earth, but, yesterday, he taught me that the refuse of the earth, poor in spirit as we are, are the ones who can indeed inherit the kingdom of God.




Gracias,


Michael Miller
http://www.micahcentral.org/

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ten Years



To read this post in printable form, click here: www.micahcentral.org/blogs/tenyears2.doc



Today is my tenth anniversary in Honduras…ten years exactly from the day I packed a few things in a couple of suitcases and left my life in the United States behind.

I moved to Honduras in August of 1998 to start an educational program for street kids in Casa Alianza’s crisis center. I had worked with Casa Alianza (Covenant House) for a few months in 1993 as a senior in Wheaton College’s HNGR program. When I met my first street kid through their programs back then, I knew that this would be my life’s work.

A little over two months after moving to Honduras permanently in 1998, though, hurricane Mitch swept through Central America, creating massive destruction and loss of life. The bridges, homes and businesses of Tegucigalpa seemed to fold before the flood waters as if they were made of matchsticks. You couldn’t be in Honduras without trying to do something—anything--to help those who had become damnificados, homeless victims of the hurricane.

Villa Linda Miller wasn’t my idea. In fact, it almost seems like God’s idea of a practical joke. Let’s take this green, 26 year-old, recently-arrived boy, whose never laid one block on top of another or mixed a batch of cement or done anything even remotely like community organizing, and let’s use him to build a new community of 165 homes. Ha ha! On second thought, I’m pretty sure that God used someone as inexperienced as me to build Villa Linda Miller in order that all witnesses to the event would be ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED that it was God who was in control and not man. Isn’t that how He always works, after all???

As I began to meet daily with the hurricane victims, generous people from all over the world began to donate to us. In the beginning, it was just simple things…funds from my home church, Central Presbyterian in St. Louis, to by mattresses and gas stoves for families that were crammed onto the floors of churches and schools. But by February of 1999, we were able to purchase the beautiful rolling land that would become Villa Linda Miller. Through grit, determination and unity, the families of Villa Linda Miller raised their own community out of land that used to be an arid and over-grazed cow pasture. Today, they have a beautiful school for their children to study in, a clinic to get well in, and a church to worship in. The kids that have the run of the community are too young to even remember hurricane Mitch; but many of the adults say that it was the best thing to ever happen to them because it brought them to a beautiful new place.

During the busy year of planning Villa Linda Miller in 1999, God started to disquiet my heart again. After hurricane Mitch, the problem of street kids in Tegucigalpa only increased, as more children were driven into poverty by the tragedy. But after all that God was doing through Villa Linda Miller, my perspective on the work had changed. Yes, working with street kids must involve feeding and clothing them, educating them and helping them to detox from their addictions to yellow glue. But first and foremost, it must be about reintroducing them to God…the One who created their inmost beings, but had since been displaced in their lives by the bondage of a broken world. If God can take a tragedy like hurricane Mitch and make a beautiful thing like Villa Linda Miller, surely he can take the violent and tragic young lives of these boys and turn them into something beautiful—something that glorifies Him—as well? With that, the Micah Project was born.

When we opened our group home in January of 2000, I had no idea what was in store for me. Walking alongside young men as they struggle to come out of addiction and the incredible evil that they encounter on the streets is a terrifying and yet glorious experience. So often, throughout the years of Micah, we have asked ourselves-- is this really possible? Can these kids really be transformed?—only to have God move again and again in their hearts to bring that transformation. So often, their lives seem to be on the brink of utter chaos…only to be reigned back in again by God’s loving hand. Back in 1999, did I think it was possible that these lost little boys would one day graduate from college and become leaders in Honduras? Actually, after seeing all that God had done for Villa Linda Miller, I was convinced that He could do anything. Even so, I am constantly surprised by the way those same guys are becoming confident, well-spoken, purposeful and compassionate men of God.

2008 has been a different year for me. You’d think eight years of living in the Micah House would get routine, but God has a way of bringing a freshness to it year by year. In some ways, it has been a harder year, as some of the violence and addiction of the streets has once again invaded our home. But these very things have reminded me to open my eyes and see that this work, with these kids, is on the frontlines of the battle between good and evil. And—lest I forget---the Mighty Champion is fighting on our behalf!

Maybe it’s because this ten year marker has made me reflective, but I admit that, lately, I’ve been overtaken by overwhelming moments of gratitude that almost bring me to my knees. I told the guys at our Sunday evening worship time that I wouldn’t trade my life with anybody else’s. I’m thankful that God chose to use me in this work, when He certainly could have chosen someone smarter, better-trained, more organized, etc., etc., etc. I am thankful that He has given me a life where I get to see His mighty hand transform lives on a daily basis. I am even thankful that he has given me a ministry that often includes tears and sorrow and uncertainty, because these are the only things that make me remember to fly back to His arms and cling to Him for dear life.

If anything, large amounts of gratitude and contentment can lull us into neutral…to staying exactly where we are because it is such an awesome place to be. But I dream that one or two of our young men will take over the Micah Project and use all that God has taught them to keep transforming the next generation of Hondurans…and in the process, make me obsolete. But for now, every morning when I open my eyes, I thank Him for allowing me to do His work in Honduras for another day.

Gracias,

Michael Miller

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Our own "extra mile"





If you have been keeping up with our blog, you know that Darin Swanson ran an ultramarathon in the end of July to help support the Micah Project. To read more about Darin's fifty mile adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail, click on his blog: http://runnerwhocodes.blogspot.com/. In support of Darin Swanson’s ultramarathon on behalf of the Micah Project, we decided to stage our own Micah run that same day, to at least feel a little of his pain!


On Saturday, July 26, seventeen of the guys and staff headed out to the mountainous road that leads to the colonial town of Valle de Angeles. Together we ran our own 6 mile run, with a lot of laughter, a faithful intern throwing us bags of water from the Micah van, a dramatic bicycle crash between running Maycol and a disgruntled bike rider (amazingly, no one was really hurt), and an overweight chocolate lab who only made it about a mile before climbing into the van. Mocha was the only who didn’t finish though, and we cheered the final participants across the finish line, everyone feeling the satisfaction of having faced a challenge and met it together (click on the pics above to see our not-so-ultra marathon above!


Thank you Darin, for not only running for us without even knowing us personally, but for encouraging us to run our own personal races in life with faithfulness and courage as well.


Sincerely,


Your friends from the Micah Project

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Prodigal


Many of you have faithfully followed the story of 16-yr-old Erick over the years and particularly through the struggles of the past twelve months… watching him change from an intuitive and insightful young boy, to an out-of-control addict destroying not only himself but those around him. The weeping of our hearts for Erick continued even as we rejoiced with many of the other Micah guys in their movement forward… and releasing Erick from Micah in January was one of the hardest things we have done. At the rate he was falling back then, it felt like we were allowing him to go to his death.

But… we serve a God of mercy and many chances, and a God who destroyed death and breaks chains through the blood of His Son… and a God who has brought Erick back! After nearly destroying himself and those around him in the first part of this year, he spent the past three months working and living with his sister in the remote mountains nearly seven hours from Tegucigalpa. When he came back to Tegucigalpa a few weeks ago, he told us he was ready to pursue long-term rehab. We could see that something was different; for the first time in a long time, he was clear-eyed and spoke with determination. As of today, he has now successfully completed the first three weeks in a six-month Christian rehabilitation center outside of the city! As we wrote about on May 14th, three of our other young men are currently there as well (Darwin Matute, Jerson, and Juan Carlos), getting the professional help that they have long needed, and they are all encouraging each other onward in this battle against addiction and bondage. I take a few of the guys out to the rehab facility every Sunday afternoon; we want to make sure that they stay connected to the Micah family and are cared for emotionally and spiritually through this journey.

If you go back to the blog entries from February, you will remember the amazing number of people around the world who joined us praying and fasting for Erick. In some ways we realize that while we asked for your fervent prayers for months on Erick’s behalf, we ourselves sometimes doubted that God would actually bring the change we so longed for… and we ask for forgiveness for that! Once again, He is doing above and beyond what we can imagine, in His own time… but the fight for Erick’s future is still just beginning, and the road will be long, so we beg once again for your continued prayers for this precious son of God.

Muchas gracias,

Rebecca Haver
Micah Project Director of Operations

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Update on "Running the Extra Mile"

I wanted to let you know that an article was published in the Portland area "Tigard Times" about Darin Swanson's plan to run a fifty mile ultramarathon and to benefit the Micah Project in the process. The article is called "'It comes down to why not' Bull Mountain runner says about racing for a cause". The article's subtitle says "Swanson is running to benefit a nonprofit Christian organization and scholarship fund that helps boys in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, get off the streets and get into school." You can read the full article here. We will be praying for Darin's stamina on July 26 as he undertakes the Mt. Hood Pacific Crest Trail Ultramarathon.

Also, I've just put our new summer photo album on our www.micahcentral.org website. You can access it here. There are lots of great pictures!

Su hermano en Cristo,

Michael

Monday, July 7, 2008

Running the Extra Mile

I wanted to share an important link with you all: http://runnerwhocodes.blogspot.com/2008/07/micah-project.html. It is a blog by Darin Swanson, who is a friend of future Micah missionary Brian Wiggs in Tigard, Oregon. Darin will be running a 50 mile race on July 26 called the Mt. Hood Pacific Crest Trail Ultramarathon. As he explains in his blog, Darin will be taking pledges based on his time or his placement, and the funds raised will be donated to the Micah Project. What a creative (and painful!) way to raise funds for this ministry. We wish him very happy trails!

We thank Darin for using his talents to support this ministry!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Group visits and a letter from Erick








June is a busy month at the Micah Project. We have a couple of groups from the U.S. spend a week at a time with us to partner with us in our ministry here in Tegucigalpa. That was made more challenging this summer by the closure of Tegucigalpa’s airport after a plane accident on May 30. Our groups are now flying into San Pedro Sula, which is separated from Tegucigalpa by five hours of winding, mountainous roads.

Our first team to come through was from the First Presbyterian Church of Houston. This was their eighth year to bring an official group to the Micah Project. Normally, the group splits up, with half working to provide medical care and the other half providing VBS activities for the children.

This year was especially exciting. The FPC team usually sets up their clinic in the Villa Linda Miller community and uses it as their base of operations. This year, though, they took their talents directly to the people who needed it. On their first full day in town, both the outreach team and the medical team set up tables under the bridge in downtown Tegucigalpa where most of the street kids live. There, they worked with the street kids and adults for several hours, reaching out to some of the neediest people in Tegucigalpa. (See the second picture above, in which Joan and Meghan look at two very young kids from a homeless family). Then, a couple of days later, the group took their tables up into the city dump and provided medical care and children’s activities to the people who scavenge through the trash (see first picture).

I loved accompanying the team as they ministered in very difficult places last week. I think that, if Jesus came back to earth and decided to spend a day in Tegucigalpa, He, too, would spend it with the street kids and up in the city dump. He does not see the grimy faces or smell the unwashed bodies. What He sees are God’s children, waiting to be shown that they have a heavenly Father who loves them. It is such an honor that He allows us to do this work for Him until He comes back again.

I also wanted to share with you a letter that I received from Erick last week. Many of who have been praying for Erick since he began his downward spiral into drugs almost a year ago as a fifteen year old. It was heartbreaking to see this sensitive, intelligent and funny kid slowly destroy himself with drugs.

A couple of months ago, Erick moved out into the mountainous region of eastern Honduras to live with his sister in a last ditch attempt to get away from the temptations of drugs. Erick’s sister is building a mud brick house with her husband in the uncharted, trackless mountains of the Olancho region of Honduras. Because there is no electricity, Erick began going to bed with the rest of the household at 8:00 p.m., waking up at 5:00 a.m. with the sunrise to begin a hard day’s labor. Erick has been helping his brother-in-law build their adobe home, and also doing chores on his family’s ranch.

Erick’s mom went out to visit last week, and came back with this note from Erick:

Dear Michael,

With a lot of energy, I want to write to tell you that things are different with me now. I know that I failed everyone. I want you to know that I am sorry. Now, I want to change and enter rehab. I want to do this in order to thank you all for all that you have done for me, and to regain that happiness that I used to feel. Also, I want to learn how to help others who are struggling with drugs. I hope I can triumph. Say hi to everyone,

Erick


Above is the note that Erick sent to me followed by a picture that Erick’s mom took of him last week near his sister’s in-law’s ranch. I know that many of you prayed and prayed for him, and those prayers seemed to go unanswered. But God’s purposes are greater than our own; and it seems that He has been working in Erick’s heart all along.

We appreciate your continued prayers for Erick as he prepares to come back to Tegucigalpa to enter rehab. Pray for us this next week as well as we receive a team from Portland, Oregon led by Brian Wiggs.

Gracias,

Michael Miller

Friday, June 13, 2008

Update on Laje and Wilmer


Laje came by the Micah House tonight (see the post directly below this one to learn more about him). It was wonderful to see him! I had been in the States for almost two weeks and was out of contact with him. When I walked out of the Micah House to talk to him, I saw something on his face that I had never seen before: happiness. He began to talk excitedly about what God was doing in his life. He said I was right when I said that God was going to do something big in his life this month. He was so excited to tell me that he hadn't consumed any drug in 11 days...a record for him! I told him that each day was a victory that should be celebrated.


He told me that the police had taken him a few days before I went up to the States and held him for eight days on suspicions of gang activity. Throughout his time in jail, he was able to pray and keep his calm. Because of his demeanor, they let him out on condition that he not be caught again in gang activities. He has been reading the book that I gave him called "Emerging from the Darkness"and is through chapter 9. He said that he is really ready to grow spiritually. I told him that God is also ready to do great things in his life! He knows that it is not easy to change and that the old habits die hard. Even so, Laje is absolutey sure that it is God working in him that is keeping him from cosuming drugs and getting into further trouble.


There is so much going on in Laje's heart right now. It is easy to see that he desires to begin a new journey in his life. Pray that our future contacts with him would lead him in the right direction. Sometimes I feel scared that I don't have the right resources to help Laje give up his life as a hoodlum. Then I remember...I don't change anybody...I don't save anyone. It is God who saves, and it is his mighty hand that leads us to that point. Please continue to pray for Laje!


Also, fourteen year old Wilmer came by today for the first time in several weeks (see the picture above of his visit). You may remember from past posts that Wilmer had been escaping from the Micah House every two or three weeks to go back to the streets and the drugs. A couple of months ago, when he escaped yet again, we made the decision to not go after him to bring him back. We felt that he needed to show that he desired to be a part of the Micah Project.


Dan and our street team have talked with him several times since then, encouraging him to come back to the project through his own free will. During these months, Wilmer seemed to be splitting time between the streets and his mom's room in the market district. For whatever reason, he began to spend more and more time with his mom and less time on the streets.


Today, when he showed up with his younger brother Nelson, we got the impression that he had not been consuming yellow glue for some time. He was calm, exhibiting none of the frenetic energy that he had when he was struggling to overcome his glue addiction. He spent most of the day with us, playing with the other guys as if he had never left. In the evening, he and his brother went home, but they promised to come back tomorrow to spend the day with our mission team from Houston, which arrived this evening.


We're not sure what happens next with Wilmer. If he spends this week working with our missions team from Houston, it will help us to observe where he is at in terms of his addiction. It is possible that we might work out a plan in which he can spent part time at his home and part time with us. He was just learning the first few letters of the alphabet when he ran away; we would love to be able to restart his education once again.


Please pray for 27 year old Laje and 14 year old Wilmer. Both are at a crossroads, making decisions that could change the rest of their lives. Pray for wisdom on our part as well, that we could facilitate healing and growth in both of their lives.


Muchas gracias!


Michael

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A break-in and a broken heart

To read this blog in printable form, click go to www.micahcentral.org/blogs/Laje.doc .

Last week, the Micah House was broken into once again. Our brand new night watchman fell asleep while someone climbed the light post adjacent to our house and hopped onto our second floor terrace. The watchman woke up when the thief dropped a bike over the wall onto the street, but after a brief scuffle, the thief escaped.


The following evening, Monday, one of our notorious neighborhood thugs came by the front door of the Micah house to ask for a glass of water. We get a constant stream of people at our door; some ask politely for food or water while others belligerently demand it. Our watchman saw this guy, a 27 year-old gangster who goes by the street name Laje (Lah-hay), and motioned to me that this was the one who had broken in the night before. Laje's normal routine is to laughingly intimidate everyone around him; when he asks for something, he expects to get it. Several months ago, he threatened me for refusing to give him food out of our kitchen.


When our watchman told me that Laje was the one who broke in, I went outside to confront him. At first, I just wanted to get him...to do anything possible to make him pay for his crimes and threats. I was angry and wanted revenge, not because Laje stole our bike, but because he stole our sense of security. Thankfully, instead of running him down with our van, which I was tempted to do, God seemed to take over at that point. I truly believe that He put words into my mouth that I didn’t have enough grace or forgiveness to say myself.


I told Laje that he was playing with God...taunting him...by his actions, and that this was a very dangerous game to play. I told him that I was going to pray that God would show him that He is a living God, and a powerful God. I would pray that, in the next few weeks, Laje would experience God’s power either through His punishment or through His forgiveness.

As I encouraged Laje to turn his life over to God, he responded that he's been too rebellious...that he's done too many bad things. I explained to him, that in God's eyes, he and I are the same...both have sinned and fallen far short of His glory. But He wants more than anything to gather us up back to himself...to be our Father once again. I explained the parable of the prodigal son...how the father went running out to meet his son who had rejected him and squandered his life on bad living. God wants Laje to be his son so much that His sent His own son to die for us. I asked Laje to imagine that the police had caught him and that a judge had sentenced him to ten years in jail (Laje knows about jail from many first-hand experiences). I asked him to imagine what he would feel if I went to the judge and told him to send me to jail instead of Laje! What would he do with the freedom that I had granted him by taking his sentence on myself? This is the heart of Jesus' redemption.

The most amazing thing began to happen as I talked to Laje. Almost a half an hour went by, and, slowly, his countenance changed from the street punk that no one crosses to a lost and confused little boy. I told him that it didn't take much to become God's son...he only had to ask forgiveness for his life of rebellion and accept Jesus' sacrifice in place of his own. I told him that God loves him with all of His huge heart and wants to be the father he never had.

Laje told me that he tried to reform once, but the church people never trusted him. I told him that God didn't care about his earrings, or his tattoos, or his gangster clothes...all He requires is Laje's heart!

After listening for a long while, Laje looked like he was ready to take off. I held out my hand, and when he reached out to shake it, I wouldn't let go. I looked in his eyes and said "Don't wait any longer, Laje. God's waiting for you with his arms open wide. Your entire eternity depends on what you decide this week. Come back on Thursday so that we can help you decide." Once I let go, Laje took off...he didn't even wait for the glass of water that he had originally come to demand!


On Thursday, the sun went down and, as 9:00 rolled around, we prepared to close up the Micah House as usual. Just as we began to do this, Laje came around the corner and stopped at our front door! Some of the guys were nervous as I shooed them off to bed that I would be alone with Laje on the streets after 9:00. But Laje didn’t come to cause trouble, he came to keep talking. This time, he opened up to me about his struggles with addiction; how he tried to give up drugs but just couldn’t do it. We talked about the spiritual side of addiction. I explained to him that will-power is not enough to break the cycle—he needs to give it over to God first and let Him help. We talked until after 10, and before he left, I promised to lend him some books the next day that might help him.

On Friday, another surprise, Laje showed up, not in his gangster clothes, but in normal, everyday attire. I gave him a book by Neal Andersen called “Venzamos esta conducta adictiva”—"Let’s Defeat this Addictive Conduct”—which approaches addiction from a Christian perspective.

I don't know why I go into so much detail...maybe to share with you that sometimes even break-ins and thefts have God’s good purposes behind them. Maybe Laje will become a great man of God who will reach back into the gangster community and win lives for God. All I know is that, for the next month, I have to pray that Laje will see the power of the living God in his life.

By the way, Laje’s given name is Juan Carlos. I think it’s time that he put his street name to rest forever.

Please pray with me!

Your brother in Christ,

Michael

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Freedom for the prisoners/ release for the oppressed


To read this blog post in printable form, please click on the following link: http://www.micahcentral.org/may14blog.doc

Last week, a Reuters’ article about a gang-related massacre in a Honduran jail ended this way: “The streets of Honduras' main cities are blighted by maras [gangs], often involved in drug and weapons trafficking” (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N03300977.htm). This comes as no surprise to those of us who serve with the Micah Project. Since opening our group home in a working class neighborhood in downtown Tegucigalpa, we have watched the situation on the streets deteriorate with each passing year. Gang members and petty thieves have broken into our cars and our home, and assaulted our staff and young men in broad daylight. Members of our boys’ families have been murdered (one in a drive-by shooting in front of the Micah House; another was hacked to death by a machete in his own home). Yes, violence and drug use (really two sides of the same coin) are tearing at the very fabric of Honduran urban society.


And, while the magnitude of the problem is new, the problem itself is an old one. A quick count of all of the boys that have gone through the Micah Project shows that, of the 26 boys that have lived in our homes, at least 21 of them come from families where at least one parent or step-parent had a severe addiction to drugs or alcohol. That is, in fact, one of the main reasons that our young men are forced to abandon their homes at a young age.


To put a human face on these numbers, I’ll tell a quick story from this past Sunday, Mother’s day. One of our young men wanted to visit his mom in her home in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa. Rebecca Haver, our director of operations, agreed to take him for a couple of hours after church. When they got there, however, they found that his mom had been drinking with two or three other people and was passed out on her front porch. Rebecca and the young man helped carry her into the house and placed her on her bed. They stayed for a while longer, while she talked incoherently about her tragic life. He asked Rebecca if he could stay the night to take care of her, but they eventually quietly left together.


How does a fourteen year old process the fact that his mom is slowly killing herself by substance abuse? What words of comfort do we say to him? You would think that watching one or both of your parents slowly destroy themselves through addiction would be enough to create a desire for lifelong abstinence. But, if there is one thing that we are learning about this particular bondage, it is that it is most definitely generational. The cold statistics state that adult children of alcoholics are four times as likely to become alcoholics themselves than are children of non-addicted parents.


Why is that? Is there something in their psyche that drives them to addictive patterns that their parents displayed when they were children? Is there something in their genes…some predisposition to addiction? Or is it simply the fact that they can walk a block up the street and openly buy a rock of crack for forty lempiras (two dollars) with no legal or societal repercussions? Is it that on any given day, scores of people stumble past our front door either drunk or stoned? Is it that addiction has become so commonplace in this society that no one even blinks an eye any more? Most likely, it is a combination of all these factors; psychologists might debate nature versus nurture, but it seems that both are working against the urban poor in Honduras.


Knowing that, we consider it a miracle that so many of the young men who call the Micah Project home have been able to avoid addiction as they move toward adulthood. Most have resisted the temptation to slip into patterns and habits that must seem so familiar to them after growing up in addicted households or on the drug-saturated streets.


Since early 2007, we have been praying as a staff that God would bring all that is hidden into the light in our boys’ lives so that we could help them strive towards true healing and freedom from the enslaving bonds of sin. Since beginning to pray in this way, we have discovered addictions or a tendency towards addiction in several of the young men. Many of you have read our blog posts and have been praying about Erick, who seems to have given in completely to his addiction. After refusing several times to enter rehab, he went to live with his mom at the house we built for them in Villa Linda Miller. Currently, he is living with his older sister in the mountains of eastern Honduras; the hope is that he is far enough removed from city life to be able to resist the temptation to consume. Another young man, Darwin, fell back into drug use after having left the streets in 2001; he consumed yellow glue for seven years while on the streets. Although he is trying hard to fight his addiction, he has been hesitant to go into rehab. He is currently living with his mom, who is an addict herself. After sitting down with him yesterday, we think that he may be ready to go into rehab next week.


In the last few weeks, two other young men have admitted to struggling with addiction as well. Juan Carlos admitted to experimenting with drinking and drugs over the last several months. Because of his family background, we were worried that this could soon turn into a full blown addiction. He took our advice and willingly checked himself into a Christian rehab program two weeks ago. The program, called Proyecto Victoria, has a facility set in the wooded hills about ten miles outside of Tegucigalpa. Its director is a Christian pastor who has a passion to bring healing and forgiveness into addicts’ lives. Several of our young men visited Juan Carlos at this rehab center last Saturday with Rebecca and Jessica, and were pleased with his sense of motivation after his first two weeks there. Proyecto Victoria usually keeps their patients for about six months to ensure that they will return to society with the skills necessary to beat their addictions.


The other young man who admitted to addiction last week was Jerson. This was less of a surprise to us, as he has struggled on and off with addiction for many years, well before joining the Micah Project. His off-and-on struggle with drug use was something that he worked very hard tried to keep secret, although we could usually tell when he was struggling. We tried to get him help through outpatient counseling, but he finally reached the point of such despair that we decided that he too needed to check into an in-patient rehab program. Honestly, our first reaction is one of great relief and hope that he can finally receive the help he needs to kick his addiction once and for all.


All four of these young men need our fervent prayers at this time. Additionally, we ask for prayers for little Marvin and Wilmer, who came to us from the streets last July with severe addictions to yellow glue. They are just beginning their process! Currently, Wilmer is back on the streets, but Marvin has been clean for three months. Pray that Erick and Darwin would desire to enter a process of rehabilitation. And pray that Jerson and Juan Carlos will participate in the rehab process with their eyes, ears and hearts wide open, willing to learn the lessons to be able to stand firm. For many of our young men, just as important as healing a present addiction is healing the great pain and trauma from the past that is tied into that addiction.


For those of us that don’t have a personal history of addiction, it’s easy to accuse and condemn the addict for his problems. But, having seen addiction destroy so many lives since serving in Honduras, I’m convinced that it is almost impossible to understand why addicts are addicts without being one yourself. To those of us who aren’t, the destruction that drugs and alcohol bring with them is an obvious deterrent. But, an addict’s brain works differently. Nic Sheff, a recovered meth addict who has written an autobiographical account of his addiction called Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, says this about his addiction:


“Growing up I’d heard, you know, never to do heroin. Like, the warnings were everywhere and I was scared—do heroin, get hooked. No one ever mentioned crystal to me. I’d done a little coke, Ecstasy, whatever—I could take it or leave it. But early that morning, when I took those off-white crushed shards up that blue, cut plastic straw—well, my whole world pretty much changed after that. There was a feeling like—my God, this is what I’ve been missing my entire life. It completed me. I felt whole for the first time.

“I guess I’ve pretty much spent the last four years chasing that first high. I wanted desperately to feel that wholeness again. It was like, I don’t know, like everything else faded out. All my dreams, my hopes, ambitions, relationships—they all fell away as I took more and more crystal up my nose. I dropped out of college twice, my parents kicked me out, and, basically, my life unraveled. I broke into their house—I would steal checks from my father and write them out to myself to pay for my habit…

…“I’ve spent the last three years in and out of twelve-step programs. Throughout all of it, the underlying craving never really left me. And that was accompanied by the illusion that, the next time, things would be different—I’d be able to handle it better. I didn’t want to keep hurting people. I didn’t want to keep hurting myself. A girlfriend of mine once said to me, ‘I don’t understand, why you don’t just stop?’

“I couldn’t think of an answer. The fact was, I couldn’t just stop. That sounds like a cop-out, but it’s the truth. It’s like I’m being held captive by some insatiable monster that will not let me stop. All my values, all my beliefs, everything I care about, they all go away the moment I get high…” (Sheff, Nic: Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines; London: Simon & Shuster, 2008.)

As we continue to reach out to the kids on the streets such as Marvin and Wilmer, these insights into addiction can teach us how to confront addiction in our boys’ lives. Convincing a kid to give up the streets is not a physical battle…because, to an addict, the promise of a warm bed, three square meals and a safe place to live will never live up to the craving for that next desperate hit of yellow glue. No, work with street kids is really a spiritual battle. As Nic Sheff stated, addiction is like being held captive by an insatiable monster. Well, Jesus himself said that his mission was “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4). He can unbind those that are bound in the chains of addiction; truly, He can set them free. He can change the desire to get high into the desire to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34).

You can join on the side of freedom by praying for our young men who are struggling with addiction…and the others who have addiction in their family background. Pray that the oppression will be lifted and the captives set free; moreover, pray that their own healing would allow them to be a transforming presence in the lives of others who have similar struggles here in Honduras.

¡Muchas gracias!

Su hermano en Cristo,

Michael Miller

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Baptisms and bruma





Hola, friends!


A couple of quick items before I get to the good stuff:


1. To update you on a previous post, "Night terrors and crime-fighting bananas", I wanted to let you know that we have hired a night watchman for the Micah House. He is a gentleman who lives in the Villa Linda Miller community and has had previous experience as a watchman (if you've ever walked through Tegucigalpa, you know that every store and restaurant has an armed guard!). The guys are definitely sleeping better now that Ennio is on duty!




2. We've added a new feature to our http://www.micahcentral.org/ website: the ability to accept online donations. For those of you who support the Micah Project, but don't like to write checks, now we've got an easier way to donate! Thanks to all of you who make our guys' dreams possible!



3. Now for the good stuff: Oscar Amaya was baptized this past weekend! This was a special and memorable event in the life of the Micah Project. We have been talking to the guys this year about taking responsibility for their own lives and spiritual journey. A Christian project runs the same risk as a Christian family: the kids are around all sorts of Christian people and participate in all the usual Christian activities, from youth group to church to daily devotions to outreach. The danger is that the guys go along with all of these good things without ever taking ownership over them. So...we've been challenging the guys in our Sunday evening worship times to "choose for yourselves today whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15); to make their own decision to make Christ the Lord of their lives.



After one of those meetings, Oscar came to me to talk. He has been maturing greatly this year as a leader in the Micah House and as a young Christian man. As he prepares to graduate from high school this fall, he felt that he was ready to proclaim his faith to the world through his baptism. This past Sunday, most of the Micah boys gathered around as Oscar claimed Christ's death and resurrection as his own through his baptism. Oscar recounted his Christian testimony to those in attendance, and I couldn't help but to be newly amazed by how God used trials and great tragedy in Oscar's life to mold him into the man that God wants him to be.


I am very excited to see what God has in store for Oscar's life, even in the year to come. After he graduates from high school in November, he hopes to do a six month mission project with YWAM (Youth with a Mission). After that, he is considering his options for college in the fall of 2009. Pray for him as God leads him into great things!


4. One last thing: did you notice the third picture I posted? April can be a tough month in Tegucigalpa because of smog, which is called bruma in Spanish. Because the farmer's burn off their fields, a thick layer of smoke and dust covers the city until the rainy season begins in the middle of May. Normally, you would see beautiful green hills in the background of the above picture...not in April, though!


We appreciate your continued prayers for the guys!


Su hermano en Cristo,

Michael

Friday, April 25, 2008

Using talents to build God's Kindgom

I wanted to introduce you all to Mary Yates (standing in the middle in the photo above). Mary and her husband Malcolm are from the Bristol region of southern England, but Mary has left part of her heart here in Honduras! Since 2000, when Mary first came down to Honduras on a missions trip, she has felt called to make a difference in the lives of street kids in this country.

Mary started a foundation, called Friends of El Hogar (www.foeh.org.uk), and part of the funds that Mary raises are donated to the Micah Project. What is really wonderful about Mary's efforts, though, is the way that she uses her talents for God's glory! As a classically trained musician, Mary organizes several concerts a year so that she can continue to raise funds for the children of Honduras. This year, she has ten concerts planned. The first one was on April 19th, and featured music from Handel, Mozart and Pergolesi. It was a great success!

One of the things I love about Mary is the way she views the world. Every aspect of God's creation is a source of wonder to her. On her last trip to Honduras, I took her to visit Zamorano University (she was instrumental in helping our Zamorano grad Darwin Pavon set up his internship in Bristol last year). I think Mary could have spent days observing all of the trees and beautiful flowers on Zamorano's park-like campus! She truly lives life with her eyes wide open.

Mary is one example of how God puts a burden on someone's heart to help the suffering children of Honduras. Instead of letting that burden rest in her heart, however, she has used her tremendous gifts to create action. That, in turn, is creating hope in the lives of many children here in Honduras!

Thanks, Mary! And thanks to all of you who have given your time and resources to build God's kingdom in these young lives.

Su hermano en Cristo,

Michael