The sun set as we left Santa Avelina so we didn’t really get to see much of the town where we were to sleep for two nights. The hotel seemed nice compared to the surroundings but certainly NOTHING like the night before. I did get a little nervous as the locked gate opened to let the bus in and closed quickly after we parked. Hmmm…

 We shared dinner together and then got to bed by 9. Katie and I had the room next to the lobby. The furnishings were sparse, two double beds, a night stand, and desk with a mirror. One bed had a headboard and the other did not. The light fixture had no covering, just a light bulb sticking out of the wall. The bathroom had no light near the sink (it was torn out of the wall) but there was one by the shower. All I cared about was taking a hot shower and the water was scalding so I was happy.

 As soon as I laid my head on my pillow the doorbell rang. What? I swear it was right above my head. Then there were several conversations, it seemed like right next to my bed, all in Spanish. Then the doorbell again. And again. And again. Katie and I started to giggle. This must be how they find out someone is outside the locked gate. Now worries, I’m sure it would be over soon. Just closer your eyes and wait…

 Then we heard the yelling and screaming. Then dishes breaking. Then more yelling and screaming. All in Spanish. There was definitely a fight going on out there. “Should we be scared?” Katie asks. “Or are we just too tired to care?”

 “Too tired,” I reply, and we stay put. The commotion finally subsides and I can hear Katie’s “sleep breathing” in the bed next to me. But my body decides to begin trembling and no matter what I do I can’t get it to stop. For over an hour I try to control the crazy uncontrollable shakes without any success. My imagination kicks in and I wonder if I am going to have to wake Katie to go and get help. I decide to take something to see if it will help and within another hour or so I must have fell asleep. When the alarm goes off I assess how I feel and determine that I’m going to be fine. There’s no reason to alarm the rest of the team.

 On the agenda for breakfast was a visit from the pastor we heard the day before. As we sit down to share the meal with him and his wife of over 40 years, he begins to tell us about his journey. He talks about the Guerrillas who almost killed him in the 70’s. He shares about how God has delivered him time and time again from dangerous and life-threatening situations. I notice that his jacket is torn pretty badly but it’s obvious that he and his wife are in their best dress. I am so caught up in what he is saying and his obvious joy for the Lord, his people, and the children, that I seriously forget to eat. This moment, this simple breakfast with a pastor and his wife, moves me more than meeting the mounds of children at the project. The respect that I feel for this man of God is so deep that my standard for any man of clergy is now amped up by 10 notches. I don’t want to leave.

 The pastor and his wife join us on the bus and I am thrilled to spend a few more moments with them. On the way he stops to buy a 100-pound bag of salt and loads that on to the bus as well. When asked what the salt was for we find out that he portions it up and sells it.

 I am super excited to find out that Nic wants to jump off when we drop the pastor and his wife in order to take a photo. I am able to go as a “helper” and Tim allows Nic to take a photo of me with them as well. I will cherish that photo forever.

 The plan in Santa Avelina today is to split into two groups for home visits. Tim, Nic, and a local team will join Katie at Norma’s and Mark and I will visit another home of a Compassion-sponsored child with a few of the local staff. Our group heads up the hill to visit Miguel and his family.

 We come to a small shack on the side of the mountain and find that once again, it is decorated elaborately for our visit. Although a very small space, this family made a big deal about us coming to visit. We are greeted by all who live in the 3-room small space – Grandpa, mom and dad, and 6 children including 7-year-old Miguel. It takes about three minutes to see the whole space and as we stand by the wood fire stove Mark notices some medicine on a shelf. He asks if someone is sick and we learn that the medicine is to protect the children because one just died 15 days ago.

 My heart fell to my stomach as I looked into the eyes of this mother, graciously preparing tortillas for us, who had just lost her one-year-old little girl just over two weeks ago. How in the world was she even able to function? But she continues to make us feel as though she is the most privileged person in the world to have us visiting her home. I am humbled beyond words.

 We end up spending over two hours at Miguel’s home and sharing a meal together that was brought over from the project. We give them the gifts of food and toys that we brought and spend time talking about their life. I am thrilled to find out that Miguel wants to be a preacher someday so I ask if I can pray for him specifically. Praying that prayer has got to be one of the coolest things I have ever done. Sitting there holding his hands in mine while my prayer for him was translated into two languages was an experience that I will never, ever forget. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for little Miguel. I pray he uses him to reach the world.

 When we gather back at the project to say goodbye, the mood is a bit solemn. We spend a few minutes with the staff and Jeremy, the young leader of the center, breaks into tears as he tells us that our visit has given him the motivation to continue to press on. We ask to pray with them and it’s an emotional and Spirit-filled time. We call out to God to rescue these children in Jesus name. We pray for provision and grace and mercy. We thank Him for all he has done. Amazing.

 We exchange stories of our home visits on the way back to the hotel and it sounds like the other group had a great experience as well. I can’t wait to see the film footage of Katie at Norma’s house.

 That evening we are graced with the presence of two students from the region who have made it into Compassion’s leadership program, Antonio and Nicolas. Also joining us for dinner is Sister Juanita, a Director at a student center nearby. Over dinner the student’s share their testimonies and we learn that Nicolas was raised up through Sister Juanita’s program. She became a huge part of his life after his mother died when he was seven. Both boys are studying to get their degree in Business Administration. All of the confidence I had in Compassion’s Leadership Development Program before is now affirmed as I listen to their stories. Even though only a small percentage of children sponsored will make the program, it is still a very important program. These students are committed to returning to their homes to make a difference. God will certainly use them to do phenomenal things for His Kingdom, I have no doubt.

 Sister Juanita has never been married or had any children of her own. She has worked at a student center for over 30 years and has adopted a few children who haven’t had parents. She considers herself the Grandmother of their children and she tells us that it’s stories like Nicolas’s that keep her going, even in hard times.

 Our final night in Nebaj (ne-bach) ends well. Katie and I head back to the room lamenting about whether or not we will be able to sleep.