Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A break-in and a broken heart

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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 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 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 be our Father once again. I explained the parable of the prodigal 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,


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Freedom for the prisoners/ release for the oppressed

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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” ( 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 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,