Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dear friends (very patient friends)…

More than two months have passed since camp, and here I am to finally sit and write about it. I have put this letter off for long enough now, that I can not only tell you all about camp, but also share with you about some of the lasting fruit of those three precious weeks back in March. In fact, I will go heavier on the latter. :) As you read this testimony, I hope you will believe with me that God’s heart beats in what we have grown to know and love as “camp”, no matter where it’s experienced around the globe….

I must say, it is with a great sigh of relief (still :) and a lot of joy that I look back over the pictures and remember the craziness of those three weeks, the first official camp season at Campamento el Faro de Esperanza (Lighthouse of Hope Camp)…

I remember the adrenaline rush as we drove in through the gate, a bus packed-full of kids who had only ever heard about this new camp. In the two months leading up to March, with so much prayer and so many hands, what had been only a worksite on a skinny strip of land on the coast of Ecuador for over a year, was transformed into a fully-equipped camp, cleaned and ready for the curious energy of 110 little campers. There were finished cabins complete with three-story bunk-beds, new mattresses and pillows, plus a fully-equipped camp kitchen, and a new beach volley-ball court etc. As the children unloaded and looked around with anticipation there was a sacred sense of history in the making…

Of course camp was everything we were all anticipating: tons of fun, with crazy games, intense fútbol championships, lots of good food, sweet campfires, special music, creative Bible lessons, challenging messages, great speakers, crafts and silly Canadian antics (thanks Halifax team!) that made for long laughs and many new friends. One highlight this year was a Noah’s Ark Musical that the counsellors prepared (for many hours :) to present at the kids camp.

On a personal note, camp had some new challenges for me this year. Besides co-overseeing the camp program for all three weeks with my faithful friend and Ecuadorian counter-part Daniel Lucas, this year I managed all the funding (which was a huge stretch for my lack of administration-accounting skills), co-directed the kids camp, and led a workshop on the life and character of Daniel for the Senior high camp (that is, the Old Testament prophet, not my faithful friend :). It was good to be stretched, and looking back, I know that I grew a great deal through the tough decisions, honest confrontations and lonely torch bearing moments that are so often characteristic of leadership. (I’d be happy to go into detail, just ask me. :) All in all though, it was a joy. There was no doubt for me that I was in the right place at the right time, and I feel like I’d do it again in a heart-beat.

I have to confess that through it all, perhaps the greatest joy for me was to watch many youth take on leadership roles and serve God with passion and great love. As co-coordinator of the staffing (all were volunteers) I so enjoyed watching God bless the lives of a number of kids as they served in the kitchen assistant cooking and washing dishes, or working on a small maintenance crew to keep camp functioning and clean.

Now, before you think that I delight in others pain, :) let me explain that my joy was born out of the memory of my own years as a volunteer potato peeler at camp. How thankful I feel now, for the way God began working in my life at the time, as I watched older youth love Jesus and give their lives back to Him as they served at camp. It was during those years that I came to know Christ personally, and God’s heart began to beat in mine.

This year it was especially sweet to witness the servant hood of a group of 6 youth from Daniel’s neighbourhood in block ten. Edy, Javier, Alfredo, Diana, Liliana and Carolina (the last four mentioned are all Daniel’s siblings) were part of a discipleship bible study that we led every Sunday evening of last year. Each one had made significant commitments to God at youth camp in 2006 and one year later they were among some of our most dedicated counsellors, Bible lesson teachers, and youth leaders. Praise God for His faithful work in each life, for lasting fruit of camp ministry and for servant hearts that continue to beat and carry the torch for kids club, and youth group in the block 10 community church.

So, I want to tell you about this kid, Miguel, 18. He is known in Bastion as "Arrozito", (little rice?) and among us, he is affectionately numbered among the other "park guys" who make their hangout in the central park, block 6. Just for a little history (and I asked Miguel if I could share his story briefly) Miguel's mother abandoned the family when he was only about six years old. He then lived with his father, who did odd construction jobs to support the 8 or 9 kids left in his care; as a child, Miguel always worked with his Dad to provide for the family. One morning, when Miguel was 11 years old, he woke up and found his father, who had been in the hospital sick, dead, beside him in bed. Since the death of his father, Miguel has lived with his older siblings (who now have families of their own sharing the same space), and continued to struggle to keep at least rice and eggs on the table. Thanks to the income and generosity of his two older brothers, Miguel began to attend school for the first time (grade one) when he was twelve years old. Just last year (17 years) he graduated from elementary. This past year, with other financial help, Miguel was studying his first year of high school, but due to economic pressures and family crises, he ended up dropping-out part way through.
Miguel actually went to camp last year (2006) for the first time and there made a decision to accept Christ, along with many of his park friends. After camp, he, with many of them, attended a Sunday Bible study faithfully for a number of months. The study was designed to give the guys some real support as they came back from camp to ‘wage war’ on life as they knew it on the streets of Bastion: to wrestle with, and break the habits of violence, alcoholism, and drug addiction that had had them so entangled. After 6 months of the bible study, the leaders made the tough decision to not continue it because the majority of the guys had returned to their former way of life and were just ‘sobering up’ for the bible study each week. It became apparent that continuing might have done more harm that good. With much affirmation of the leaders support, the guys were challenged to remember their initial commitments to Jesus, and to take responsibility themselves to get the available help to make the needed changes in their lives. So in November of 2006, Miguel was the only one who personally sought the help of one of the faithful youth leaders in the Bastion community church. The two of them began to meet weekly to study the bible, to hold accountability and to pray together, and consequently, Miguel began to grow in leaps and bounds, experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in his life.
Miguel is one of the most generous, kind and thoughtful kids I have ever met, with a servant’s heart that reflects the heart of Christ. (More than once, I have arrived home to find that Miguel has weeded my entire flower garden by hand purely out of the goodness of his heart!) But it has been a lonely road for Miguel, following Jesus. He remains good friends with all of the park guys, but no longer drinks or participates in the party/disco scene with them ... usually only playing futbol with them in the evening or on the weekends. (And Miguel can play circles around some of them. :) But it’s not just on the streets of Bastion that he feels alone in his convictions and life choices, but in his home as well. This past year Miguel has dealt with a lot of criticism and negativity from his siblings and their families for the decisions he has made to live a life that is glorifying to God. In his own home, he endures the rampant effects of alcohol, promiscuity and drug abuse. He has confessed to me and given testimony, “God has saved me so many times”, whether from his desperate thoughts of suicide as a child, or from the effects of his bad habits in his teen years. It is so true, and God continues saving Miguel.
This year, it was thrilling to be able to invite Miguel to come and serve at camp, first for a few weeks in February to help in the finishing touches of camp construction, and then in the month of March, to be part of the team of youth leaders during the kids camp program. Miguel was so faithful to serve in the nitty-gritty jobs that received little recognition or reward, whether scraping rust from the iron window bars on the new camp kitchen (in typical Ecuador fashion), or washing toilets, scrubbing floors or emptying garbage buckets. He did it all with a smile. On more than one occasion he had the opportunity to give testimony of the work of God in changing his life, and during the older youth camp, he was able to share with his peers (many of the same park guys who began on the journey with him one year previous) what it has meant to him to make Christ LORD in his life. He told them, “I know Jesus and I will never be alone.”
Praise the LORD for His work one life at a time. God is in the middle of a rescue operation in the life of Miguel, and in the lives of many others who are learning to walk in the footprints of Christ and growing hearts that beat like His.

So, while many youth grew in their love for Jesus as they moved their hands and feet for Him at camp this year, there were also a number of youth who came to know Christ for the first time. And there were a significant number more who, though they had already acknowledged Christ as their Savior, chose to begin the journey of making Him LORD in their lives. On April 28th, we returned to camp, (this time the bus was full of community families) and a group of 8 youth (and a couple of women from the block 6 church) were baptized. It was a very significant celebration of new life.
And on a personal note, it was an extra special day for me; I had the privilege of baptizing two girls that were among the first little sisters I acquired here in Ecuador, Ibis and Katerin. My prayer that day, as I remembered my own baptism at camp (10 years previous), was “LORD, let it not be 10 years before these girls are celebrating new life with little sisters that you bring into their lives…”. Praise God for His work, and the joy, the sheer joy of watching His heart beat in those around us.

Now we are full swing into the new scholastic year (as of the end of April) which has meant the new beginning of not only classes, but also kids clubs, junior and senior high youth groups, bible studies and a lot of less-formal discipleship “life”. :) (In both block 6 and 10.) The scheduled, program part of life is certainly not my favourite…(and will always be my complaint, and excuse for my procrastination with these general updates), but I do want to mention a few studies (and students :) specifically in block 6 that need your prayers. This is the line-up of activities on Sunday afternoons/evenings.

Alex (a Bastion youth and church leader) and I are taking a group of 11 youth through a beginner discipleship study. A few in the group are new believers, a few are newly committed to Jesus, and a couple have known Christ for a few years but desire to better develop the disciplines of prayer and Scripture study in their lives. Please pray for, Johanna, Jessica, Ibis, Katerin, Alfredo, Jaime, Celi, Richard, Grace, Ana, Blanca and Marjorie. Pray that God will teach us about Himself, about His heartbeat for each one of us, and for this world.

Carlos (another Bastion youth leader) is meeting with a group of young guys (church youth) weekly to study the Bible and work through what “walking in Jesus footprints” looks like today, in Bastion. Please pray for Mauricio, Freddy, Juan Carlos, Gregorio, Reynaldo and Luis.

Willian (a church and youth leader) meets weekly with Miguel (the above testimony) and two other guys who made commitments to Christ this year at camp, Miguel (yes, another :) and Chamo. All have made significant changes in their lives, leaving the habits of violence, sex and alcohol behind, and seeking to know and walk with Jesus, honouring Him. Please pray for increasing trust and accountability between these four guys, and that their hearts would beat more and more as God’s own heart.

Had I written this letter back in April (as I planned) I would have written with much more detail about camp. But…as I did not, I pray that you will be blessed to hear today that work that God began, or continued at camp…He continues today. And the truth is, He continues working in the lives of other kids who experienced His heartbeat at camp in March, but who have forgotten, or deny it now, a few months later. I haven’t told those stories, but God-willing, one day I will. Pray for Eddison, Gabriel, Cruz, Gerald, Jonathan, Alexis, Titi and others to whom I believe the LORD longs to give His heartbeat.

Thank you for your faithfulness. I write to you, because I know that you care (enough to read four pages of an update :) because God’s heart for this world beats in you. Thank you for your prayers for camp this past year, for these kids, and for me.

When the LORD called out to Saul as he walked along the road to Damascus, Saul (blinded) responded with two questions, “who are you LORD?” and “what is it that you want me to do?”(Acts 22). Saul knew the name of He who was calling, but he didn’t know Him. Saul knew it was the LORD, (whom he was persecuting), but he didn’t know the LORD’s heart, nor the purpose for which the LORD was calling him. Like Paul, may those be my questions of the LORD today. He called to me 11 years ago when I first surrendered my life to Him, but He continues calling me today. May I be the kind of servant who responds, “who are you LORD, and what do you want me to do?”, and in that order. (How many times have I skipped to the 2nd question and never mustered up the courage to obey because I didn’t take the time to ask the first question, and put my trust in Him.)

Show me, teach me who you are Jesus, and help me to hear and know your heartbeat. And LORD, move me please by that same heartbeat to do what it is you have called me to do. Please, if you pray anything for me, please pray that I would continue to be faithful in God’s Word, making my number one priority to know Him. My housemate, Nikki has gone home to Canada for two months and left a nice cozy chair by her window upstairs, vacant. :) I have enjoyed it in the cool early-morning hours so far, and it is my desire to sit daily, to know God, to hear His heartbeat and to be moved by it.

In pursuit of His heart,

“the LORD has sought out a man after His own heart…” 1 Samuel 13:14

p.s. I would be amiss if I did not mention that the LORD so blessed me this year with the visit of my dear sister for the whole month of March. She was such a support to me during the craziness of that month, and it was fabulous to share camp with her. Please, for more pictures and a detailed description of camp (and our trip to the Jungle together :) check her website:


Bobbi said...

Yeah!!! Thankyou for posting! It's a blessing to hear what God is doing a personal way. You're in my prayers and may God continue to bless you in ways beyond your wildest dreams!

Béthany said...

A bona fide Janna update, with the end-bit and everything! I would have hoped for nothing less.

I wonder, are you always so full of hope about all those people, or just when you stop to think about it, and write an update? That's a genuine question. I remember what it is like. I bet it is tough to see a lot of things you are seeing.

Hey, I'm quite looking forward to your visit. Make sure your visa is still valid before you leave the country ;)

Love, B

Rick said...

Hi Janna. Rick Cruse here. I am the new pastor at Fall River Chapel. Have been hanging out with your dad quite a bit as we have looked for housing. Spent a little time with your sister in February discussing her longing to be in Sudan. Having spent 12 years in Kenya, Debbie and I understand her desire. Just wanted you to know I enjoyed the update and look forward to future ones as well. my contact is If I can be of any encouragement, please don't hesitate to write. We hope to visit you at some point so we can see firsthand all that God is doing.

Anonymous said...

janna. you are an amazing women. you are making a huge eternal impact as you partner with God in His kindgom work. and glad to hear that you have a beach volleyball court.

hope your well. later, paul