A great adventure begins with the courage to take a single step.
We were already tired from a long day of traveling when we arrived at Miami International Airport with a rented van FULL of boxes and luggage, but since we had a late flight, our day was just starting! It is actually a long story, but God gave us great favor with a manager over baggage who really cared about the work that we are doing and figured things out so we could check through a lot of extra bags at no extra cost. It was amazing! We were able to bring everything that different companies had donated to us as gifts for prisoners, orphans, homeless and people in great need.
It is amazing how in just one flight you enter a whole different world, literally, the third world. It was summer when we landed in Uruguay and really hot. The place we rented to stay in was small (especially since our luggage and boxes took up half of it:) but we are a very close family and were all excited to be at the turn of a new chapter and the beginning of a great adventure. I had already been in contact with the office that runs the prisons in Montevideo and they organized four prisons in one week. Our first prison was a women’s prison, way out in the middle of no where. It is actually an abandoned hospital and looked like a condemned building. Seriously, it was like something you would see in a World War2 movie after a town was bombed.
Because they get practically NO visitors or events here, the guards at the main gate had no idea how to go about letting us in. First they sent us to the back of the prison where there was an overgrown fence guarded by the army who had no keys to it and no way to let us in. Then when we returned they finally called the main office and arranged for us to get in. The court where we where to perform was locked by a separate lock and no one could find the key for it. After about 30min, they found the key but the lock would still not open since it was so rusted. It was like no one cared at all about these women and they were just hidden away by society. My brother had tools and WD40 so we were able to eventually get the lock open.
We ended up having a beautiful time, doing multiply performances and reaching the whole prison. The women where touched and extremely grateful. This one beautiful young women had gone to a university and was into photography when a guy asked if she would be interested in traveling to Brazil to film a documentary. She was thrilled since she could never afford a trip like that on here own. She had no idea that they planted drugs in her suitcase and then set her up to take the fall of a drug smuggling ring. Now she was here in this cursed place. I was so happy to have some special little things to give these women and bring them hope.
My little brother suddenly started limping..
Our next prison was large, more like a little city. We were part way into our presentation and were performing the Brazilian art of capoeira when my youngest brother, David, suddenly pulled up and started limping off. When I saw his face I knew something was very wrong because he would not stop for any type of miner injury. We iced his leg and got him in a chair while we finished sharing with the prisoners and said goodbye. They sent us to a hospital down town and we had to wait a while in the emergency room. David had torn his achilles tendon and had to have a full leg cast put on. It was scary looking around at the poor conditions of a third world hospital. I know that in the end the Lord will work this to my brothers good. If in suffering, we choose humility instead of self pity or bitterness, we can find a “place” that gives us an advantage because God dwells with the humble and says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”. . To those that are lowly in spirit, light can be found in darkness. Hope can be found in a hopeless situation and even in the worst storm, a rainbow can appear. God will hear the broken of spirit.
We were at the hospital late into the night and had had a performance scheduled at a prison early the next morning. We talked about canceling it since we were all really tired, worn down and would have to try to adjust all our dances and theater acts since David could not participate. But in the end we decided to go ahead with it knowing the Father would meet us with His grace and David said there was no way we were canceling on his account. These prisoners have nothing and no one and we have this one chance to give them something and bring them a “rainbow” in all their suffering.
By the power of Gods love, we were able to have a great effect on these men. We were supposed to only get an hour with each group but it turned into two hours and the men just sat there when we were done and would not leave. They were hanging on our every word and many were in tears. One man told me that we brought him what he never had in prison, “Alegria” (meaning joy and is the theme of a magic routine we do).
One man was too injured and week to come down so he watched from behind bars. When we were done he threw down a swan that he had made out of paper as a gift. I will always remember when I tried to toss up a shirt to him, seeing just his hand stick out and try to catch what I was throwing him.
We also constantly ministered with the crowds down town Montevideo and on the boardwalks and beaches. There were many tourists from other countries as well as the locals and we try to put a seed in their heart and show them that there is something beyond just surviving, working a job, going to school and beyond the here and now. Life is so much more than living for ourselves. We each have the power to love, to care to touch another life and this power is a responsibility, Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of My brothers, you do to Me…(Mt.25:35)” Many homeless on the down town streets were very grateful for a survival blanket and one man told me he could use it as a way to find a clean spot on the dirty street as well as keep him warm.
We then traveled to Argentina and since it was vacation season, all the parks and recreational areas were very busy. There is a big park, (like central park) down town and the directer of the park asked us to perform there every weekend and holidays like mardi gras weekend which was four days straight. He reserved a spot for us and very large crowds gathered each night. Families come from all the surrounding regions to enjoy this park, as many are very poor they are grateful and excited to enjoy our show free of charge.
The kids love seeing magic and their eyes just light up. This one little girl just could not figure out where the flowers went I had just disappeared and needed to search all my pockets to try to find them. I use the puppet theater I made and both kids and adults enjoy listening to stories and listening to my crazy puppet pretend he can do magic and juggle even though he can’t move his arms or mouth on his own. After he fails to even hold the juggling balls, he simply says he needs to practice, but is ready to juggle flaming swords over a volunteer!
There is no medicine like laughter, that reaches so deep, makes the old feel young and a troubled child content. Real spontaneous laughter does not come often in life, and when it does we usually remember what or who it was that made us laugh. So we use the medicine of laughter to touch the life of a sad soul, to reach deep and crack their wall a bit so that we can then put a seed within them which is the hope of the Gospel.
We do a theatrical act that conveys a child returning to the Father (like the Prodigal son). One women came up afterward and told us that a year ago her husband had been murdered and she has felt so lost and destroyed inside. She said at times she comes to this park to watch other families and just sit alone in her sadness. She said when she heard our music she was drawn to come and when she saw the act of the child returning to the Father, for the first time she felt hope and that she was not alone but does have a Father. So many think of God as distant, aloof, and abstract. But Jesus referred to God as His Father over 100 times and said “..I am returning to My Father and your Father”(Jn.20:17)… He does not expect us to try to be good, but rather to be humble, to talk to Him and to believe Him.
We were all very blessed after a day like this and know that our strength was well spent. We collapsed in our van and headed back to the center. Traffic was bumper to bumper and it took a long time to get home, the rest was a blur until we hit out mattresses. The other prison was scheduled for the following day and it was a bit tough to get up early as we were all very tired(I love coffee), but Gods power truly is made perfect in our weakness. Security was more intense getting in and they had to search the van and most of our gear. We always just kind of hold our breath hoping they are not going to open the magic chest and prop box because then their curiosity kicks in and we our in for a long search as they have to look at every little thing and touch all the cool magic tricks or get a demonstration of the trick (just to make sure it is not a security risk of course). We had a powerful witness and got through to a lot of suffering men. We spoke to men from Italy, Iran, Briton, Colombia and South Africa as well, each with their own story. There were many political prisoners, some serving very long sentences. As I said good bye to an older gentleman, he grasped my hands and said with a smile, “Today my daughter, you made me laugh…and that is not something that I have done in a very long time”.
We can or we can’t.
Its amazing how much in life comes down to the specific choices we make. We can do things, or we can not do things. Every day is much like the one before it and will probably be pretty similar to the one that follows. There is nothing that greets us in the morning and makes us change our routine or go beyond ourselves to care about others. Things that happen on the outside, can determine how we are on the inside. Our past can shape our present and ultimately determine our future. Precious moments can slip away and be lost, sometimes because we miss them, and sometimes because we do not stop and grasp them.
The power to choose, to be who we want to be, is something we each possess. Life is a gift, it is a blessing but it is also a responsibility. Every day we are faced with two options, we can…or we can’t. We can stop, spend time alone and think a little deeper in regards to God and our eternal destiny, or we can’t. We can make an effort to search out an opportunity to touch the lives of others and help someone else, or we can find reasons why we just can’t.
You and I will never be the exact age we are right now. We will never again live the day we are living right now and we do not know how many of these things called “today” we have left. Our destiny is not locked in stone or written in the stars. We do not have to be who we were or who we are but can become someone new, we can change, and that is a very exciting thought. Jesus said those that give Him their life are as a seed, which only becomes what it can be, because it gave up what it was (Jn.12:24). Sometimes even a very small choice, to resolve something or to change a very small thing, can lead to something big.
One day in Argentina, I chose to go to a certain prison and ask if I could talk to the director in regards to getting authorization to visit. There was a little window on the door which a guard finally opened after I knocked ten times (like the gate in The Wizard of Oz). He barely listed to what I was asking and then slammed it shut and said no, I could not talk to anyone. After repeating this process a good, oh…60 times until, long story short, I eventually found a door where I found a guy that got a guy that knew a guy that got me to the directer.
Its funny how if you act important and like you belong somewhere you absolutely do not, sometimes you can bluff your way into where you need to go (just in case you ever need to get into somewhere you don’t belong like a really bad prison). We ended up finding remarkable favor with the director of both this prison, and one that was adjacent to this one (which is one of the worst in the world). They were very taken back by what we were offering to do and treated us with much respect and gratitude.
The directer asked us to visit all the other prisons in the area and invited us to a meal of grilled meat with all the guards (I was brave enough to taste this weird blood sausage which ended up being not that bad). We ate next to the prison by the dog canals. One of the guards had an adorable little puppy and he showed me how they train the dogs to be guard dogs and to find narcotics, it was really cool.They organized an event for us from one day to the next and went above and beyond to get together a large group of prisoners at the same time so we could just do one larger presentation in each prison, instead of two smaller ones (It is hard to do multiply performances in one day because of the amount of energy and focus required, especially in high heat). Normally they can only have a certain number of prisoners together at the same time, but in our case, they brought in extra military guards and doubled the amount of prisoners that could watch us. They helped us figure out ways to make shade and provide the prisoners with something to sit on. These guys were so grateful. We gave out some candy as they came in and this one man was so excited just to get a piece of candy. He said “Wow, I have not had candy in 18 years!” One man had just been shot in the hand and told me how painful it was. I was able to get him a sling that I sent in to him the next day.
One of the prisons he wanted us to visit was waaaaaayyyyy in the middle of nowhere with desert before it and the Andes beyond. There was no lodging around, so he arranged for us to actually stay on the prison grounds in the guards quarters near the dog canals (no, not a quite place). It was one of the most amazing experiences I have had, the prison was very big and we were inside one fence with three more before the prison.
A severe thunder storm moved in and it poured all night with lightning splitting the sky. At 10:00 pm, we start to hear loud shouts, guns being fired and the dogs going nuts. A guard rushes into our quarters and tells us there is an escape attempt taking place and not to go out. He puts a dog to guard us and then rushes off. We watched as guards ran the grounds, fired rubber bullets and could see a fire in one of the cell windows. It was like being in a live movie. All night men were shouting and yelling to each other.
The next morning a guard whose name was Facun, explained that thee top criminal in the country named, “Gato Rayo” (lightning cat), is imprisoned in the maximum security section of this prison and last night attempted to escape. This was his second attempt at this prison and he had successfully escaped from another prison. He had planned this a long time, had in his possession a map of the prison and had a van waiting outside. Seven other prisoners were part of the plan, some were decoys to lead the guards astray with no intention to get out. They had cut the electricity to their section so the guards would be distracted trying to get it back on and set a fire in one of the cells.
They each got out of their cells (which no one knows how), got out the first and second fence. One took off running on the roof, but in the end, no one got all the way out. Well I don’t know if you find this kind of thing interesting or not, but it was an amazing experience and surely a night that I will always remember. Besides the escape, just hearing the men yell and scream all night will be something that will stay with me forever. So much suffering and sadness on both sides of the walls. “Remember those in prison…”(Heb.13:3)
We have also had some really sweet times of ministering in the down town center at a large plaza. There was a huge festival going on that drew huge crowds from all the surrounding villages and cities. It was an awesome opportunity to reach people that we could otherwise not get to. I had a lot of fun using my self made puppet theater and doing magic with my sisters for all the kids.
I will go farther, I will love I will give, I will say now is the time, today is the day, because I only have this one life to live.
The border between Argentina and Chile is located at the top of a mountainous pass on the foot on Mnt Ancagaua (highest point in South america). After you cross, there is a steep pass with 29 curves defending the mountain (a nice sign that counts them down in case you forget).
We had a great opportunity at an area outside the center where the governor of the city organizes an event for us once a week in a large plaza. He pays for chairs to be brought out and publicizes our event to the public. We have had some very long, special, (did I say looong), nights there reaching a lot of people from all over the country. We were also granted a spot right in front of their Grand Central Station which is the only train and bus station in and out of the city. Over 700,000 people walk by this spot a day! To bring joy to a sad world and hope to those that suffer is a great privilege.
We worked with a large Catholic foundation for the elderly and homeless and did a number of performances for them. This one elderly man I met lost his leg in 2012 when he was working at a construction site and a heavy crate fell off a semi truck and crushed his leg. He said the pain is so severe sometimes he can hardly stand it because his hip bone is barely covered. He has a beautiful little dog that helps pull him and go up to people with a little basket around her neck to ask for money.
Mid April snow fell on the Andes and winter was arriving. It is has very cold especially at night and I am so grateful to the company that donated the aluminum blankets to us so we can give them to those in need. It is truly a blessing to give something so practical and helpful.
We performed at a large all boys school. Lets just say, absolute caos! It was obvious that these boys have had no discipline, and no love from their parents. We saw inside a class before we started and the teacher is obliviously writing on the chalk board as the class is going nuts jumping, yelling, on their phones;. NO one cared. It was a heck of a lot of work to get 400 12 to 15 year olds under control and focusing on what we were saying, but in the end it was well worth it and we were able to plant some seeds and teach them about discipline.
The place we stayed at in Chile, we had reserved online at a really good price, but when we arrived, it was nothing like it was shown to be. It was in a really bad part of town (drugs, drunks and gangster part), the people who owned it still had ALL there stuff in it, nothing worked, the doors didn’t close, the ceiling was falling down, and it was absolutely filthy and covered in dust. (Like a really dirty antique store full of stuff from the 16 century that should be thrown away). We tried to find another place but everything was either very far from the center, or literally twice as expensive. My brother has pretty severe allergies so we did not think we would be able to stay besides the fact that its almost winter here and it will flood and be freezing. Anyway, when we came up with no other options, we decided to see if we could make this place work. After scrubbing it literally from top to bottom it was a lot better. We got rid of the smell and my brothers allergies didn’t act up. The first night it rained hard and I woke up to plaster from the ceiling falling on me (what was bad was that I was so tired I didn’t even mind), the next morning I moved my bed.
It is always easier not to….but where does easy get us?
We had a beautiful time performing for a government run orphanage in Chile. These kids have nothing and no one. The director told me that 70% of them will live their whole lives in one of the homes for children that the state runs. There are three homes, one for children age 1 to 5, one for children 5 to 12 and one for children 12 to 18. They get moved from one home to the next and then when they turn 18, they are on their own. It is so sad because I once met a young man in prison who had spent his life in these orphanages and then ended up robbing a store to survive when he was on the streets.
The orphanages do not have enough staff to give the kids adequate care so many end up neglected. When I first went into the orphanage court yard, there was a little girl sitting in a corner just crying. It really breaks your heart to see their suffering. Some have parents, but the parents that are not fit to raise them so the state takes them, and since the children are too young to understand everything, they just feel unwanted.
When we preformed for them, there was a little boy, maybe 7 or 8 who was deaf. We would lay next to our speaker so he could feel the vibrations of the music. He loved seeing magic and hugging our big stuffed lion. We were able to tell them stories and puppet shows to give them a message of hope and love. I think seeing some of the older kids laugh makes me the most happy. There is so much suffering in those young eyes.
I was making conversation with an oler man, maybe 80 and I asked him what he had done for work. He said, “survive”. He told me that he had never known his parents, had no idea if they died or if they just gave him up, but spent his childhood in many foster homes and orphanages until he was just thrown out to the streets to fend for himself. You would never think looking at this man the story behind his eyes.
|We have visited most all the prisons in the Santiago area and reached many men and women who have lost there freedom. So many stories of a mistake turned tragedy. In the eyes of society, there is the victim, and the criminal, but in Gods eyes, we are all victims of this thing called sin that is within us due to Adams fall. God does not see levels of sin. Jesus said that he who is angry with his brother, is as guilty as he who kills his brother (Matt.5:21). Gods forgiveness is a gift, offered to all, based on faith in the blood of His Son Jesus. We cannot be good, or be better, but we can become new.|
In one prison we met two twin brothers who had both been in prions for 23 years, one in solitary confinement for much of the time. They were thieves and involved in armed robbery. One brother told me the first time they stole was because they were so desperate from having lived on the streets and they needed clothes and food, but then they kept robbing and said they knew the deserved to be there. We made a fold up ladder we use as a prop in a skit we do and on each one of the rungs we have written a word that is a “step” to “escaping” where they are, and a way to use the time they have in an effective way. Words like, “attitude” . Our attitude can determine our future, give up, go with the flow, or fight to be an individual and change.
|We wanted to visit the southern city of Concepcion but had many events scheduled in Santiago, so we split up and my brothers and sister and I took a bus south. We planed to sleep on the bus there and sleep on the bus on the way back so would not have to stay in a motel (which are quite expensive).
We arrived at 6:00 and it was absolutely freezing, I think it was like 10 degrees. We had two hours to kill before anything opened and I had planned to just doze off on some chair in the terminal, but the terminal was an outdoor, third world terminal and there was nowhere to sit. As usual, our Father always takes care of us and provided a little cafe that opened early where we could wait it out and even get some eggs (not heated, but the kitchen heat made it not too bad).
At 8:00, we went to the prison to see if we could get in even on such short notice (usually impossible). God is a God of the impossible and we found favor with the guards and the head director. He allowed us to visit the women’s prison in the morning and then two large mens patios later in the afternoon. We were able to give them a magic show and share many things with them.
We then went to the university which is one of the largest in the country and were able to talk to many of the young people as they went on lunch. Then we hit the down town center which was absolutely packed. Each of us had a large crowd of people that we were able to talk with and share many things. We then went back to the prison, (we had to be there between 2:00 and 4:00), and then made it back down town for the evening rush.
“…To preach good news to the poor….to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…to comfort all who mourn..”(Is.61:1)
Every day we are faced with choices and decisions. Routine comes easy, doing things outside of our comfort zone, well it’s just easier not to do those things. But “easy” gets us no where.
There were a lot of opportunities in Chile, and after spending a good deal of time there, reaching most every city, many prisons, homes for the elderly, schools and orphanages, it was time to move on and head back through Argentina and towards Brazil. Once again we drove the 29 curves back up to the border.
Some of the road signs along the way can really scare the heck out of you. Like this one which would mean: “Caution or your car will fly off a cliff and plummet into a river”. And then we come around a bend and see this semi tipped over and realize its no joke.
The prisons in Mendoza are some of the worst in the world. In 2004 there was a major incident in this one prison where the prisoners actually held hostage a group of civilians that had come to do a theater act for them. Apparently the president was on the way and they had intended to hold him hostage protesting the horrible condition. Anyway, long story short, eventually the situation was resolved without causalities but this led to a policy which forbids civilians to enter this specific.
They were able to organize an event for us where we could perform inside one wall but outside the main wall in a court yard. We were able to move all the benches out of a Catholic church so the guys had a place to sit and then prisoners were escorted out under heavy guard. We shared a beautiful time with them and they were eager to listen and learn. Most of the men had very long sentences and told us they never get visitors or to participate in activities.
After our performance, the director insisted we have coffee because he wanted to tell us that he has never seen anything like what we did and in our case he would make an exception to the “no civilians inside policy”, and let us inside the prison to perform our show for multiply patios. We were honored.
This one young man I spoke with only had one arm and had just gotten into prison. I asked him how he lost his arm and could not believe the story. He said when he was 12 years old, he was at the zoo with his parents and fell into the lions cage. The lion attacked him, took off his arm, part of his face and his heart actually stopped for a time. I found his story absolutely unbelievable until one evening I was out jogging and got to the zoo just before it closed. The guys let me in and I could not believe the conditions, you could literally touch the tigers and cougars, the bears were barely out of reach with no fence around them, and although there was no lion anymore, its area had no fence around it and one could easily trip inside it. There were many other animals that were out of the cages walking wherever they pleased and there was zero staff around. Anyway, all though I did enjoy seeing the animals up so close, it was a rather dangerous situation and I totally believe the prisoners tragic story of how he lost his arm.
|On my birthday we were inside a maximum security prison and did multiple performances for smaller groups because of security. There was a prisoner there who was blind and had a very long sentence. He placed my hands on his head to let me feel where a bullet had entered leaving deep scars. He had been involved in a robbery where he ended up getting shot, almost dying and blamed for the crime when he was barely involved. I just can’t imagine not only being in prison, but being completely blind and vulnerable. I asked him to dance with me when we do a cultural dance and at first he hesitated, but after I encouraged him to trust me, he really enjoyed it and was very good at leading me. His name is Walter.
One prisoner, who had learned it was my birthday the day before, drew this picture for me of Jesus laughing that was beautiful. He said that he had always thought of Jesus in a boring kind of way, but after seeing what we did, he saw Jesus as full of joy, hope and life. It really touched me and meant a lot. This definitely will be a birthday I will remember for a long time. Another prisoner baked us empanadas for lunch and served us coffee.
In one of the acts we do I have a picture of a door painted on the side of a collapsable changing room (the kind that are used for camping). I first show it as just a black circle, then pop it out to reveal the door. I share how even in the darkest, worst place, we can find, another “Place” (Jn.14:3). Although these men cannot leave the walls, the can find “a Door” beyond them, which is Jesus. No matter what situation we are in physically, there is a door out, and we can find a beautiful “place” even in suffering if we choose humility, because God dwells with the lowly (Is.57:15).
After we are done with our performance, if time allows, we always spend time talking and listening to the guys one on one. I was translating for my dad and we were asking the guys to tell us some of their best childhood memories. It was a beautiful moment, all remembering the joy and innocence of being a child. One man told us he remembered making a sling shot out of a tree branch and hitting targets in the woods. One man said he remembered climbing a hill by the zoo and looking at his house far below. One young man said his favorite memory was at his 8th year birthday party at his grandparents house. He said that day everyone knew him and he was important, now he was nothing. We encouraged them that all though in a sense, we left the child, the child did not leave us and we can go back to being children, trusting our Father.
|Check out this picture my brother snapped when we were waiting in a government building. The sign says, ” Use in case of evacuation” and the little black thing in the glass is a whistle. Check out this picture my brother snapped when we were waiting in a government building. The sign says, ” Use in case of evacuation” and the little black thing in the glass is a whistle. No kidding. Well I definitely feel safe knowing that I am in an earthquake zone and this buildings evacuation plan is someone breaking the glass to blow a whistle!!! Because when you’re three floors up and the building starts to shake and things are falling, hopefully you will hear the guy on the first floor blowing a whistle which will let you know you should get out (because obviously you had not already thought you should get out of a moving building).|
As we left Mendoza and headed to Cordoba, there was a large prison on the way. I was able to find a phone number and after one phone call the director, he set up an event for us with barely a days notice! This is a miracle and God definitely had destined for us to go there. There were certain patios that could not be combined with other patios but the director figured out a place where we could go so that nearly the whole prison could see us and also brought out the women’s prison. It was an ideal situation and so many people could hear and be touched by the Fathers love.
There was this one young man, maybe 20, who is serving an 18 year sentence in a horrible prison. He was at home sitting on the couch in a room with his parents when he heard his mother scream. A robber had barged in the door and was assaulting his mom and shoved her to the ground. This guy went to get his dads licensed gun and in a panic shot the intruder. He called the cops and an ambulance who took the injured intruder to a hospital. If the man lived, the guy would not have been charged, but according to the countries law, if he dies, you get charged with man slaughter. The man died. So when you think that all prisoners are criminals by choice, also remember this guys story and think about what you would have done if someone attacked someone you loved.
|After we were done the director brought us to a room where they had prepared coffee and pastries and a place for us to rest before we continued on our journey. The coffee was produced on the prison grounds and was delicious. The director of the women prison gave us a beautiful table cloth the prisoners had made and wanted her to give us on their behalf. These people are so genuinely grateful to be remembered. They even used a military van to escort us to the nearest cheep motel.
If you fight you might loose, but if you don’t fight you’ve already lost.
When I was online looking up contact numbers for the prison, I came across an article about it that said one of the worst problems in this particular prison were the amount of rats that came in from a near by trash dump. I didn’t think much of it and was just looking for phone numbers so we could receive authorization to get in. However, as we were coming in and out of the prison, guess what we saw lots of? Very big rats. As if prison is not horrible enough, I can’t imagine being trapped in a cell and have rats coming all around.
In each section of the prison they had a theater room where we performed. The stages were small and we had to tighten up our routines, but the whole experience was amazing. I do a magic routine where I use a “seed” (just imaginary by pinching my fingers) to make flowers grow out of nothing. My brother wears a cool mask (like a mimes mask but not creepy) and has a bag of “seeds”. He goes in and out of the audience letting them take a seed and put it into my empty bag that I then pull a flower out of. We went throughout the seats and up and down on stage, it was so cool to see their amazement and wonder. Sometimes it can seem so hard to change things and to get from where we are to where we want to be. Faith is the seed that brings something, out of nothing and causes new life to grow from emptiness. One seed of hope, can change a life.
At the end when we are packing up and saying goodbye, many of the men are in tears and just so very grateful. The director came up to us at the end and told us he just could not believe his eyes. He said we had just performed for one of the worst groups of prisoners and he was amazed we were able to completely captivate their attention. In his 20 years of working here, he had never seen this happen. He said that we created a “climate” in which they were able to let down their guard, be like children and listen to what we were saying. A “climate” is an interesting word to use, but is very accurate. By using things like humor, magic and dance, we allow them to enjoy themselves and let their guard down and then with that open door, we put one seed inside…maybe two.
|We walked down a long hall where the prisoners were baking fresh bread for the rest of the prisoners. They gave us some to eat for our long drive home and it was delicious all though we each felt “full” on the “food” of doing the Fathers will (Jn.4:34).
Down town in the city center we had large crowds and people seemed stunned that we were doing a quality show for them and not asking for money.
I do an Irish style dance (our family heritage is Irish) where I start playing my tin whistle. People come around me (my brothers and sisters in capes), shove into me and I drop my flute. It shatters (sound effect) and I am devastated. I choose to pick up the pieces and give my flute to the Father who fixes it and allows me to play a new song. I then tap Irish step-dance at the climax. (Probably sounds lame summed up like that, but is actually pretty theatrical and the crowds really get it.) Our lives are like a flute and we each play a different song. Sometimes things happen that we never except and can shatter our “flute”. It might be a divorce, sickness, tragic past or any number of things we face in life. Years ago I severely broke my leg and had a rod and eight screw put in. I spent a lot of time in a wheel chair and the doctors thought I would never walk normal again. I did not listen to any voices but trusted my life to the Father and so today, I dance (I think I have written my story in a past post and so will not go into it all now). It is our choice what we do after we are “shattered”. Self pity will ruin us. Pride will leave us bitter. Regret will steal our future and blaming God will leave us with no hope. Humility is the door that can bring us to a beautiful place, because God honors, and gives grace to the lowly. He dwells with the broken (1Pet.5:5/Is.57:15).
To humble yourself costs nothing in your wallet, but everything in your heart. It will take you to places you never thought you would go. It is so “easy” yet so hard. It’s as close to you as your lips but as far as you so choose(Rm.10:9). It is the move from one life into another. It is the way down that takes you directly up. Humility can move you from a place of being ruled by your suffering, to the place from which you can rule.
The prisons in Rosario were in absolutely horrible condition and over 100 years old. The day we visited it was freezing. I mean the wind chill brought the temperature into the teens. But despite this lovely weather, the prisoners wanted to come outside to the spot where we performed and did not want to leave. In consideration of them we just kept our show short and then asked them if they wanted to go back inside. They all said no way, they were fine and asked us to do more. I was able to give them each an aluminum survival blanket that someone had donated to me. They all erupted in applause when they understood what they were and that they would bring them some relief from the cold. It was the perfect thing to give them and I was so grateful to have enough to give them each one.
|Life is not a game, it is a battle. Fighting is dangerous, but not fighting is more dangerous and if we don’t fight, then we have already lost. I have seen much death throughout the years of my travels. I have talked to people on the streets one day, and then looked for them later to find that they have died. I have seen men killed both by physical things and by the slow silent killer called “despair”. We have to fight or we will be defeated. Fight routine. Fight apathy and indifference. Fight to care and not let your heart grow cold. We are fragile. One second something can take us from this earth and steal our last breath without our permission. You do not know who you touch today that might not be here tomorrow. Don’t take your heart beat for granted. Don’t let your minuets rush by without stealing a moment. God destined a specific day for us to seek Him. He made it, set it aside and named it, “Today” (Heb.3:15). Today is a gift. Today is precious so seize Today, before it becomes yesterday.|
|This was a painted under an overpass in Cordoba and in front of it to young boys slept just like in the picture. Under some of the bridges there a number of people living and whole “house” built out of sheets, cardboard and whatever else they can find. We should think twice before we complain about something, don’t you think?
Courage is love in action.
|Crossing the border into Brazil was super easy! Usually you have to go through one process for people to enter and then another for a vehicle and another for the trailer and usually along the way you run into technical difficulties (that could delay you anywhere from an hour to a day). But entering into Brazil they did not need any paperwork or documentation for the van or our trailer which was awesome and saved so much time. We started this drive so many miles ago in Colombia and after coming so far I cannot believe we are in Brazil! It is hard to switch our minds from Spanish to Portuguese and right now we only speak at a basic level. A lot of words are similar in the two languages, but not pronounced the same and many words exist in both languages but mean completely different things. I think the more we get Spanish out of our heads, and absorb ourselves with Portuguese the easier it will get and hopefully until then I will not get into too much trouble.|
The most southern state in Brazil is cowboy land, or as they are called, Gauchos and they take their culture very seriously. The land is beautiful, full of livestock, horses and ranchers. They have a cool cultural dance (which we hope to learn a little of) and are definitely a very distinct and passionate people.
One night as we traveled it was getting late and we were looking for a place to stay. After only finding places that were either really bad, or too expensive, we finally came to a ranch type hostal. The owner was a very kind, elderly rancher and gave us accommodations at a discounted price. He had a slight speech stutter which made understanding his portuguese even harder, but he was so very patient and quick to smile that we got along with him easily. He lit a fire in the hall and we all warmed up before heading to bed. It is as if passion is written in the very language of Porutguese and Brazilians do everything, including speaking, at a very high level of energy and you have to really work to keep up.
I had read things about about this city that said it is one of the richer cities in Brazil, since it is a port city, and so I pictured a developed down town area and a rich kind of atitude. But in reality, it was quite different. There are scores of homeless, and poor, so much so that throughout the city there are make shift tarp houses and tents all over. Even in developed places places like the airport, bus station and shopping markets. One day I saw this man wander in the rain looking through the trash. He stopped by a big heap of junk on the curb that had a flood of water running under it. I thought he was going to look through it as well, but then he stopped, ducked under it and crawled into his home! He lives in this pile of trash. I later took him some stuff but I wish I could give him a home.
The down town center is absolutely packed with crowds hustling and bustling about. Everything in Brazil seems to be big and busy. As soon as we set up our music equipment in the center plaza, a large crowd gathered. We stayed out for hours, performing and sharing many things.
We do an act where one of us wears the costume of a homeless man and walks about begging. I am in the back ground acting as an artist, drawing the homeless man. I watch as a man ignores him and won’t help (one of my brothers playing the part) and then finally a young man stops, gives him his coat and cares for him (another one of my siblings plays the part). At the end I, as the artist, show the picture that I have been “drawing” and it is of the face of Jesus, conveying what Jesus said, “whatever you do to the least of My brothers, you do to Me. (Mt.25:40)” This is always a very powerful theatrical act and encourages others to care about each other and to care for those less fortunate. When we did this act for the first time here in Brazil, as my brother was acting homeless and begging, people from the crowd came out to give him something and care! They wanted to show they got it. One of the guys that came up was actually homeless himself, and had a few extra coins. We also do a version of this in prisons where instead of conveying a homeless man, we convey a prisoner who is sad and another prisoner cares about him. It is the default of our nature to think and care about ourselves. We can become consumed with our problems even if the guy next to us has it ten times worse. The Gospel calls us to forget about ourselves and love others. That is true fulfillment and joy.
|After a few phone calls, we were able to set up a meeting with the director of the main prison which is one of the worst in the nation. It was pouring the day we visited and rain poured through the roof and many areas of the prison were flooded. The director and his first and second in command were extremely kind and grateful that we would be willing to come there. They took us on a complete tour and showed us everything in the prison and how bad the conditions are (because of severe overcrowding). I am glad that they were very patient as we communicated in Portuguese because whenever we get a blank stare, we have to stop and grab the dictionary. I study a lot and listen to Portuguese when I run, but communicating in real life at a fast pace is a whole different thing.
There is a long history of abuse, gangs and violence in the Brazilian prison system. This particular prison had to be taken over by the military because the situation got so bad. It is now run by the army, verses the state prison system. It is law that when a guard, civilian or social worker passes a prisoner, the prisoner has to turn his back to face the wall and not make eye contact with another person. This constantly humiliates the prisoners and creates an atmosphere of depression and tension between guards. The entire guard prisoner relationship seems to hang on a thin thread, compared to other prisons where there is somewhat of a chemistry. Usually when I pass prisoners in the hall or walk by their cells, they will call out or offer greetings, looking for attention. But here, there was only silence, averted faces and wary looks. I knew it was going to be a challenge to reach these men and effectively communicate hope to them.
As we had coffee with the director we organized events and he spoke of his desire that eventually, we could reach the whole prison (over 6,000). The patio where we were going to visit was flooded out the day we were set to perform and so they made an exception and allowed prisoners to visit the auditorium normally meant only for staff so they could see us perform from on stage.
The stage was really nice with curtains, lighting and we were able to use our projector to show video behind us. The prisoners were all reserved and skeptical to start with, and it took hard work, humor and genuine love to open these guys up and show them they could trust us. Sincerity is clearly seen in a person, and it is our greatest weapon to counter the hypocrisy of the many churches that bombard these prisons and seek to take advantage of others. People often just cannot understand our motives to do what we do and to do it free of charge and are often skeptical that we have a hidden motive our unseen charge or something. They do not understand why we would give up everything and come here to them. The answer is simple, If Jesus gave all that He gave for us, giving Him our lives is the very least we can do
It was really cool doing our Capoeira dance here in Brazil (where it originated). We always get people to participate in a “Roda” (which in short, is a circle in which you play Capoeira with another person while others stand around and clap to the rythmn). In some countries we have to explain what Capoeira is and encourage them to join us but not here! Half the audience came up and crammed on stage waiting to participate and got into 100 percent. It was really fun and the energy was high since all the men were clapping and shouting. Capoeira is a beautiful combination of fighting and dancing. There are schools all over if perhaps you were ever interested in learning some, besides being fun it is great exercise.
After our performance we talked with the guys and said goodbye as they left. Many were in tears and said they had never seen anything so beautiful. They were grateful to be remembered, especially since their prison is known for being so bad. We definitely “reached” them.
|The guards took us to their cafeteria and gave us lunch. All though I did not know what a single food item was, it all tasted pretty good and we were grateful for some energy before our next performance (I will admit I skipped “desert” which was a very odd looking jello type thing). We then moved all our equipment to another section of the prison to go directly into a patio. There was this one gate you had to go through, (kind of like a turning door that you go through at a bank or certain stores, the kind only one person fits in and you have to keep walking to get out except this one was really narrow and made of bars) anyway, we had a hard time fitting our speaker through it and it took a good 20 min to finally figure out the right angle.
It was visiting day for this group and so they had their sons and daughters with them. It is really heartbreaking to see some of these broken families and to see the kids say goodbye to their dads when they have to leave. We were able to bring some laughter to everyone including the little ones and the men were happy that we did magic, they felt like they were giving it to their kids. They told us they have never had this before. One young man really thanked us and said he was just laying on his mattress wasting away another day and now we came and changed his mind. Another man said he just could not believe how in such a short time we completely changed his thinking about so many things and gave him another perspective. They had a huge cake there for the kids and the prisoner that cooked it insisted on giving us a piece, I felt a bit nausea after dancing and putting out so much energy and declined, until I saw how disappointed he was. And then, after I finished the large piece he gave me I made the mistake of telling him that it was really good and ended up with another huge piece (of wet, milky funny tasting cake with unidentified berries in it). Luckily I found a sweet little boy who was thrilled to have two pieces.
After the director saw our performance, he asked us to perform for an event they had for the guards and staff the following day. It was a little intimidating looking out from the stage at a few hundred uniformed guards and military personal, but the Lord gave us the courage and grace and it all went well. We were able to bring them laughter and encouragement as well as trying to encourage them to treat the prisoners fair and just. The director was very grateful and told us that when we return (we will have to go back to the States for a while) he will allow us to get into all the patios, even the very large ones. Some of the patios are like small cities and normally they do not allow civilians inside, but after seeing the good influence we had, he said they would work it out. He said he was surprised by the courage our family showed in coming into this place. I have never really seen it like that. I imagine you would do anything for those you love and would not really consider it courageous to risk your life for them, all though others might see it like that. We do what do motivated by love, our love for the Father and courage is the face of love.
|Posing with a group of prisoners and staff.
We are making a “L” with our fingers for “Libertad” (freedom).
Not physical freedom, but freedom of the heart and mind, freedom from self.
Hope is such an amazing thing. It is like the dawn, spreading rays of warmth to those it touches and once it has risen, it fills the sky and gives birth to light. Goodbye for now and in this dark, cold world, may the light of the Father find you and give you hope.