Age-Out Pandemic; Institutionalization Breakdown

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Do we?

In my time of living on the celestial sphere, I, Jesse Rivers, have witnessed a lot of horrific tragedies and traumatic situations around the world, personally and through observation. It is almost impossible to try to fully and accurately depict in words many of these realities and their impacts on the population of the earth. In the last couple of years the coronavirus pandemic has drastically and very traumatically impacted life all around the globe. Its impact has been devastating in many ways, beyond just the physical impact.

By far the worst tragedy that I have ever witnessed in my lifetime though, is what I call the ‘Age-Out Pandemic’. Unfortunately this pandemic is even more hidden to the eyes and conscience of most people, as its effects are so much more long-term and so much less visible to the naked eye. If we were honest, without bias and self-interest, this should be the very first pandemic we should be attacking for the preservation and blessing of humanity overall.

With the coronavirus and many other health pandemics, the consequences and effects manifest themselves quite quickly and visibly. When you have, or know someone who has, a sore throat, shortness of breath, fever, or any other of the manifestations of a health pandemic, there are usually solutions available; visit a doctor, go to the hospital, if you feel so inclined to get vaccinated there usually are vaccines available, have a doctor visit you, check online for symptoms and ways to treat them, etc. However, with the ‘Age-Out Pandemic’, the problem is that the effects of this pandemic do not manifest themselves very visibly, at least not immediately. For this pandemic, there is no vaccine and too few people have been willing and/or committed to help with the cure for this problem.

Here I would like to define what I mean by the ‘Age-Out Pandemic’. In much of the world, for far too long, the church has failed greatly in one of the most important calls of God for His people. James 1:27 tells us that God considers pure and faultless ‘religion’ to be the act of, and commitment to, caring for the children who are orphaned and the lives of those who are widowed. I personally believe that this call is not just for the technically orphaned children, but also those in vulnerable situations as well. The responsibility to care for vulnerable and orphaned children should lie directly in the hands of true God-followers, no matter how challenging and inconvenient that may be. However, over the last several centuries, the responsibility of care for these children has been handed over to governments and institutions to handle. The reality is that institutionalization and benefit and gain from these children’s lives have dominated our response to the children’s needs. Due to the institutionalization of so many children, the accepted process of working with these children has become to solely focus on their childhood and adolescence, rather than their lives a whole. When a child in foster care, orphanages, or children’s homes comes to age as an adult, they “age-out” of the system, and no longer have stability, support, or any system of connection on which to rely. This process of ‘age-out’ has become an accepted way of ‘dealing’ with these children. However, the vast majority of these children who now have become adults do not have the stability, love, and nurture consistent in their lives, and a staggering percentage will not live a productive and wholesome life. Their lives are negatively impacted by the disconnection and, if I may be so bold to say so, ostracization from community to an extent most of us will never be able to fully comprehend. If I can be honest, we set them up to fail, and I believe we have more responsibility for their failure than we are willing to admit. To make matters worse, we have allowed for this systemic pandemic to penetrate the entire globe. This is the ‘Age-Out Pandemic”, that I truly believe is ruining way more lives than any other pandemic or tragedy of any time. I will acknowledge here that some institutions have started focusing on the successful transition to independence for the children once they become adults, but this too falls short of what I believe God has called His people to be about.

Imagine, if you would, that your own son, Pete, turns 18 years old, and all of the sudden he no longer is allowed to have communication, encouragement, financial help, or any sort of support from you. The bonds formed in Pete’s life with you and the family are cut off, and now he is expected to just thrive on his own as an adult. He no longer has an address, home, family, nor any real sense of connectivity and stability. Is this really the manner in which you believe Pete should be treated? In my heart I know that the majority of people will say NO. We would never want to treat our sons and daughters in this way. So I want to ask why it has been ok that this has been our approach and system to work with ‘other’ children for so very long worldwide?

Statistical evidence has shown very clearly that if only 7-10% of professing Christians would step up, if churches would each step up, and help just one child to have a life-long family and life-long home, we could eradicate the need for foster care, orphanages, and children’s homes, as well as to clear the streets of children who have had to resort to living in them. We would mitigate gangs and improve overall society. You can call me idealistic, but it is a statistical truth. The problem is that too many are too worried about the current system being changed, and that the ‘funding’ would stop for those said systems. To me, that would be a true miracle and success, if we rose up as true Christ-followers, and strove to change the plight and scenarios of so many precious children. Would it be easy? No. Would it be quick? No. Would it be messy and hard. Yes. Would it be worth it? Yes! A thousand times YES!! Sooo, there is good news! We can do something about this! Let us be that generation that rises up and does not settle for mediocrity. Let us be a people who wholeheartedly embrace God’s heart and call for us to care for these precious children! LET US BE THE DIFFERENCE THAT THEY NEED!!

Having myself lived through abuse and neglect, and then through the foster care system, I personally have experienced the age-out pandemic. I am not bitter about it, nor am I a victim. Fortunately, my intimate love relationship with God and His provision of so many people around me who have cared and shared in my journey have enabled me to lead a productive and successful life. However, I have witnessed and experienced personally the reality of disconnectedness, brokenness, and destruction that our current system of institutionalization and aging-out worldwide causes for so many vulnerable and orphaned children. Praise God that this is not just my opinion or perspective, but is a worldwide movement that is gaining a lot of traction. Many globally are joining a cause of breaking down institutionalization and ending the age-out system, the age-out pandemic! Click here to see even more!

It is time for those who truly follow God to rise up and choose His model for these precious children, a life-long model for genuine home and family, stability and love. May we truly be about His heart! Each child, no matter how challenging or extreme their situation may be, deserves the opportunity to know life-long family, life-long home, and the opportunity to be able to become productive participants and contributors to society. I know that it is seldom easy, and requires great commitment and sacrifice, but I know that we can eradicate the ‘Age-Out Pandemic’, stop the institutionalization of dear children, and that we can bless society and each other so much more when we embrace and care for these children, to truly get to know their life-long family, life-long home, and to have opportunities for learning and growth! Will you join us in this fight? Check out our website here, and see how you can best get involved! Join us today!

I Cried Yesterday…

I remember back when I was probably just 14 years old, living in foster care with a nice Christian family. In my time living with them, they had four children of their own. I remember the changing of diapers, burping babies, and the regular feeding and attention that was needed. What I remember most though, were the many, many times that any one or more of the four children, from infancy to small child, would come sit with me in the rocking chair. It wasn’t wooden, but rather a nice recliner that rocked well. I remember so many times when they would jump up in my lap and put their heads on my chest. I would gently push my feet against the floor and begin the smooth sway of the chair, backward and forward. I was far from a perfect teenager, but I will tell you that in those moments things felt and seemed pretty perfect. I really loved those moments, and have never forgotten them.

One day in the rocking recliner, while I was holding one of the children in my lap, head upon my chest, I had an epiphany. Having come out of horrific abuse, and not having been the recipient of much love myself, this was an experience I had not known myself as a small child. I remember sitting in that rocker and asking God if I could one day have my own child(ren) to hold in my lap and rock gently. I realized the great value and importance of holding and being held, of special intimacy and closeness between humans, in developing bonds and connections.

Yesterday, I cried. So, to be honest, I guess that it is not terribly uncommon for me to shed a tear or two. I am a bit expressive as a human being, and not at all afraid to be in touch with my very innermost emotions and feelings, without having some complex about being weak. But yesterday I cried… and let me explain why.

In recent months God has provided the means for my wife and I to be able to be renting a house, rather than an apartment, and with so much more space we have been able to invest in a nice rocking recliner. With our newborn son, Jedidiah, he needs a lot of attention. Yesterday, after he had fallen asleep, I had him tucked in my left arm, against my chest, as I rocked gently in the recliner. As I looked down at his precious face and body, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a realization. God had answered my prayer request from my teen years! My eyes welled up and yep, you guessed it, I cried. The tears were of joy, of healing, and of great hope. I am trying to break a very destructive generational cycle of curses, poverty, abuse, and neglect. I am trying to establish a godly family and home, where my child(ren) will never be able to experientially understand the depravity, neglect, and abuse I had suffered as a child. I cried in joy of knowing that yet another part of my story of life points to Jesus, shows success, and values precious children.

My work as a missionary, advocate, and champion for precious children would be far less effective, in my personal opinion, if my personal life is not also challenged and called to fight for my own child(ren). Jedidiah has stole my heart, and has caused more tears (of fear, anxiety, pain, and joy) than I could ever have imagined. Just to mention his name sometimes causes me to well up with tears of great joy. Yesterday, as he lay in my arm, I looked down at him and I cried… in gratitude to God, joy for his life, fear for how cruel this world is, and with a great hope that we will get to have many more moments and experiences throughout his life that will be intimate, beautiful, and full of great love and hope because of God being his and my center and fountain of life.

I also cried though, thinking of the millions of beautiful and precious children who have no one to love them, care for them, fight for them, or even to hold them gently as they get rocked in a recliner. Jedidiah has a daddy who will fight for him until my last breath, but oh so many children do not. May God raise up a generation of great daddies and mommies, who want to hold, help, love, and bless their children well, all for God’s glory.

Would you be a part of those who would help Abogar to offer precious children the opportunity to have a daddy who will hold them and rock them? We can’t do what we do without generous support from people like you! Please consider giving a generous one time gift or become a monthly supporter of Abogar today. Click here to see how you can be a part of a generation of great daddies and mommies!!

$20… He Gave It All!

On my most recent work trip in the US, I, Jesse Rivers, had the great blessing and privilege to meet with many collaborators, prayer supporters, and financial supporters. From fishing together, eating together, celebrating my wife’s and my soon-coming first son, Jedidiah, giving updates and presentations, doing house repairs, preaching, and blessing other ministries, it’s suffice to say that it was a very busy trip! It was a time full of great blessings and stories, but one story really sticks out to me, that I’d like to share with you!

I shared a weekend of my time with a dear family that partners with the work and ministry of Abogar. We also share a great love for each other, and enjoy spending time together. This family of seven is a great encouragement to me personally as well, and I am grateful for what time we can share together. Our Saturday was busy with different activities, but we had set aside a time in the evening for me to share with them an update about how Abogar is doing and where we are headed.

As we returned to the family’s home, after our Saturday adventures, we ate a meal together and then I shared a bit about our desire to build a four-story ministry location on the property that Abogar has recently purchased in Guatemala. After the presentation, one of the sons, an 11 year old boy whom we will call Hu, came to me and asked if the building was really going to help the children in Guatemala. I looked down at Hu with a big smile on my face and told him that yes it will. He immediately pulled out a folded $20 bill and handed it to me, saying, “Use this then.” My heart melted a bit and I was really touched that Hu, being so young, would care enough to give to this cause! I hugged and thanked him!

A little bit later that evening, I was sitting in a hot tub relaxing with Hu’s older brother, Kay. Kay told me about the events of that day. He and Hu had worked together that day to mow eight different lawns, long and hard work in hot weather. A couple of times Hu had wanted to quit, but with Kay’s encouragement and support, Hu kept at it for the whole afternoon, and received his pay… $20! Just a couple of hours later, after my presentation, Hu gave it all away! His whole day’s work was folded up in a $20 bill, and without a hesitation, knowing that it will be helping children in Guatemala, he gave it all to our ministry!

I am honestly greatly challenged and encouraged by Hu’s generosity! The work he did that day was hard, and in hot weather. He had really wanted that $20 bill. However, without flinching, given an opportunity to invest in other children he doesn’t even know and will probably never meet, he was willing to give it all to help! It is my hope that Hu will grow up to continue being a generous and selfless man, and that we too can be challenged and inspired by his example! Than you, Hu!

Deeply Rooted by the Fountain of Life…

Recently I had the great pleasure of taking my wife on a short vacation to the beach, to celebrate our successful and blessed first year of marriage together. It was a long trip by car, and on our way, around midday, we made a stop at a restaurant on the edge of a river, to enjoy a nice lunch. After enjoying the nice meal together, we then decided to check out the area a bit together. As we strolled down to the river, we were met with the view that is captured in the picture I took above. It immediately reminded me of an amazing message that my dear friend and mentor, Jedd Medefind, gave at the CAFO Summit in 2016… https://vimeo.com/167466994.

After my walk by the river, I revisited Jedd’s message, and then I felt like God really placed a specific message on my heart, that I would like to share here. Abogar has chosen ‘Deeply Rooted’ to be our theme for 2021. As I walked by the river with my wife, I was impressed by each tree’s deep roots on the edge of the river bank, and also noted how they seemed to move toward the river; their source of water and sustenance. They are planted and deeply rooted next to their source of life, that enables them to flourish and be big, strong, and full.

The Bible says that the Lord is the fountain of living water (Jeremiah 17:1), and also that those who believe in, and come to, Jesus Christ will have rivers of living water flowing from their hearts (John 7:38). The reason the these rivers of living water flow from within us is because the Holy Spirit (God) is abiding in us. He is our source of life, that enables us to grow and flourish.

In a world that has often seemed very critical of Christian principles, morals, and beliefs, having myself received a lot of criticism for my relationship with, and belief in, Jesus Christ, I have recently begun to be a bit more quiet about my faith. This is a confession and an observation. However, for Abogar to truly be deeply rooted, for success in our ministry to help precious children and families, I believe we must be deeply rooted next to the source of life, Jesus Himself. He truly is a Fountain and River of living water for those who will believe in and receive Him. As the trees in the picture above boldly have their roots extended toward the river, I believe we, at Abogar, must also continue to dig our roots deep toward our true source of life and sustenance, Jesus Christ, our Fountain and River of living water!

A wise person once said, ‘You can’t give what you don’t have.’ To be deeply rooted to Jesus, our source of life and love, we must continue to make Him our priority. To share His love, hope, and truth with others, we must first have it ourselves. As we get closer to Him, our roots sink deeper and get closer the ‘water’! Being deeply rooted by the Fountain of Life enables us to also give and share of this great love, hope, and truth to those whom we are called to serve! Please pray for Abogar’s team, as we continue working together for the glory of God, that we will continue to grow more deeply rooted to Jesus, individually and as a ministry together, so that we may grow tall and strong in our effectiveness to reach the multitude of children and families in need!

9 Years Done…

It’s hard to believe that it was 9 years ago today that I, acting in obedience and faith to what God was calling me to, started the founding and building of a non-profit organization; Abogar International Ministries! Happy Birthday Abogar!

9 years of ministry completed! 9 years of great trials and triumphs, tears and smiles, silence and shouts of joyous praise, partnerships and broken promises, forward movement and setbacks, false accusations and undeserved favor, brokenness and beauty, hopes and discouragement, faithful participants and some whom have been unreliable, failures and success, and as you can imagine the list goes on! 9 years completed, and there is so much to praise God for! In everything give thanks (I Thessalonians 5:18)!

After completing 9 hard but amazing years of service to God in the capacity of Founder and CEO, I have learned how little I really know, and how great the need really is for precious children throughout Latin America and around the world! The tragedies and travesties that humanity perpetuates against children around the world is devastating and heartbreaking! However, the many who have joined us, through prayer and financial support, partnerships, and sharing encouragement and counsel, have been of great inspiration for Abogar to continue moving forward! THANK YOU!!

This year’s theme for Abogar is Deeply Rooted, and we believe that we always need to be deeply rooted in Christ, first and foremost. As we focus our work in Guatemala, at this time, we also have become deeply rooted in Guatemala, with some very important partnerships, ministry outputs, and connections to see the further improvement of treatment of children here. We are excited to watch God bring forth great growth and upward movement for His glory, from the roots that have been placed deeply here.

It seems very fitting that we are very close to purchasing our first ever property, on the ground in Guatemala, God-willing! Abogar’s board of directors has come together to raise the funds needed for this property! It is a small and empty lot, but we plan on laying a great foundation, and then, hopefully with help from construction teams from churches in the US, we shall be able to build up! We anticipate an office space, ministry location, and team housing facility on this lot of property. Praise God! Please keep the purchase and the ensuing construction to go smoothly, and to be affordable for our small organization! We are looking to build up, all for God’s glory!

9 years in, and I have so many stories of children’s and families’ lives touched and changed by Abogar’s presence and ministry. 9 years in and there is not a doubt within me that we, Abogar, are exactly where God wants for us to be, doing what He is calling us to! I get excited as I think that this next year of ministry will complete Abogar’s first decade as a ministry. On a personal note, the friends and supporters that have encouraged and counseled me and Abogar in this endeavor have every bit as much right to be proud of what God has done, and will continue to do, in and through Abogar! Thank each of you for your support and participation!

As we remain deeply rooted, we look to grow up greatly, into all that God is inviting us to become. Keep going and keep growing, Abogar! May God continue to be the heart and center of all that we do and are as an organization! All praise to Him always! Happy 9th Birthday Abogar!

Transition Times… Time To Celebrate!

Almost 9 years ago I, Jesse Rivers, in obedience to a specific and clear calling from God, set out on a journey to start and develop a non-profit organization, Abogar International Ministries. As the Founder, CEO, and President of the Board of Directors, I have had to balance and carry out a lot of responsibilities. For almost 9 years now, as I have sat as the President of the Board of Directors, God has faithfully provided incredible and committed people to be a part of the team! It has been amazing to watch the growth and work of such a committed group of people, to meet monthly without compensation; lending their insight, wisdom, and prayerful perspectives and opinions to help direct and guide Abogar along its path of ministry and outreach! It has truly been such a great honor and privilege to serve in this capacity!

Last night I presided over my last official board meeting as President of the Board of Directors! It is nostalgic and a bit bittersweet, but I am excited to announce that in mid-January, 2021, Julie Heisey will pick up the mantle and baton, and step into the position of President of the Board of Directors for Abogar International Ministries! Transition times have come, let us celebrate! Growth and good things are in the works!

Transitioning away from this position will free me up a little more to focus my efforts on the CEO position, and on helping to lead Abogar forward more on the ground in Guatemala and Latin America. Many people are not fond of change, but this is a long anticipated change that makes me very happy. As we expand the voices of influence in our ministry, all pushing for the same mission and vision, each uniquely gifted to contribute in our own specific way, we help to solidify even more what Abogar is all about… fighting for precious children of Latin America to have forever homes, forever families, and educational opportunities; all with Jesus Christ at the center!

Please join me in the celebration of these transition times, and extend a warm and hearty welcome to Julie Heisey as the soon-to-be installed next President of the Board of Directors for Abogar International Ministries!

Peace and Power to Pursue Justice…

Tumultuous times. With the presidential election still undecided in the United States, and with violent protestors attacking and setting the congress building on fire here in Guatemala, we are in tumultuous times. With the covid pandemic paralyzing and halting much of the world’s ‘normal’ activity, we are in tumultuous times. With the natural disasters and man-made disasters that are sweeping across our celestial sphere, it is impossible to not notice that yes, we are in tumultuous times.

I believe that in these tumultuous times, many, including followers of Jesus, have chosen to live in, and out of, fear. As the Bible clearly directs us, God has not given us a spirit to be fearful and timid, but rather that we can live in power and with a sound mind. Unfortunately, I see many people living without surrendering their minds and hearts to God, but rather living in fear of the man-made gods we have allowed to consume our lives (media, technology, entertainment, wealth, etc). I have never, in my 41 years of life, seen this world in such a fearful and paralyzed state.

I believe that our first response to all this should be to seek God and ask what He wants from each of us. How does God, today, desire that you and I would be reflecting His love, light, and truth to this world? Satan wants followers of Jesus to be silenced, and for God’s love to not be able to break down the darkness, evil, and hate on which the Devil thrives. However, God has empowered His followers to have peace. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 (NIV)

While it is true that we are not always able to control the circumstances and situations in which we live, we are fully responsible for how we respond. As I have been praying and reading God’s Word, I have been overwhelmed and convinced by this truth… Still God is giving peace and power to pursue justice. The needs of vulnerable children have grown drastically in these tumultuous times, and their need for justice is urgent, and should not be ignored or belittled because of tumultuous times. The needs of many others have also become more urgent. If we are truly children of God, followers and servants of the Lord Most High, then we should be filled with His peace, which He freely gives, and empowered by His awesome eternity-changing, life-transforming, hell-conquering love… not just to receive and hoard it, but that it would be lived out in the urgency of needs that we see around us.

You may not be called to be an advocate and champion for children, but you ARE always called to love God, yourself, AND your neighbor. Many need encouragement, love, and a word of goodness and hope. God grants us peace and power to bring His justice here on earth. God’s justice is that His love and light will overcome hatred and darkness. YOU are the vessel He is asking to be able to use. He wont force you. He wont shame you. But He DOES invite you to let His love and light shine through you. Walk in the peace and power of God’s justice, a justice that brings love and light even to the least deserving (ME!), and ask God today what response He wants from you! I am certain that He shall give you a peace and power to pursue justice… His justice, a righteous justice, full of love, light, truth, and freedom!

A Book To Read

I, Jesse Alan Rivers, write here tonight to share something very special and from my heart! Many have asked me what has led me to be an advocate and champion for vulnerable and orphaned children. I seldom have sufficient time to share an in-depth response. Well, as I have recently become a published author, there is now a book to do just that… give an in-depth reason for why I do what I do! JAR: A Vessel in the Hands of the Potter is a memoir of my first twenty years of life, giving a glimpse of how God, the Potter, has molded me to truly care for precious children! Please consider getting yourself a copy and hearing the real story! It is a story all for God’s glory! Abogar International Ministries was founded largely because of some of the important experiences and truths of my first twenty years of life, and God’s desire to use them and me in His great work of loving the orphaned and vulnerable children! May you find this book to be a hopeful and helpful piece, leading each of us into God’s heart for the orphaned and vulnerable (James 1:27)! https://wipfandstock.com/jar-a-vessel-in-the-hands-of-the-potter.html

Slow and Steady…

2020 has been a different type of year for everyone. While Abogar has slowed down, we are proud to be steadily continuing our ministry and outreach to precious children of Latin America. Please enjoy the following blog post from one of Abogar’s Board of Directors’ members, Julie Heisey, to see how we are doing so…

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady wins the race.

But does it really in our context?

In my recent role in the service industry, our team had long been used to operating with a focus on speed, not so much on the connection we profess to want to provide our customers. We had been required to focus our attention on getting things done as quickly as possible, not as graciously as possible. Yet during this time of COVID-19, we have been given a unique opportunity to slow down. Our customers want and need human interaction that slows down to ask, “How are you doing?”—and to listen to the response.

Within the field of economic development, there have long been several insightful voices speaking to the need for organizations to first ask the community what they want, and to listen to the response. The trap many of us with big hearts fall into is the desire to do something now, while it counts, before the opportunity is missed. And yes, sometimes there is a need for immediate action when disaster is what we’re facing. However, if we desire long-term impact that creates stable communities, homes, and incomes, we have to slow down to understand what each community desires.

Slowing down does not mean inaction. It means hearing to listen, asking to understand, and pausing to provide space for others’ voices.

Abogar finds itself in a unique season of listening and waiting. We are actively pausing, actively asking, and actively listening to the community. For Abogar, this community means the vulnerable children and families of Latin America. For you, the community may be different.

As we ask you to pray with us during this time, I would likewise ask you to consider where you need to pause, whom you need to listen to, and what questions you need to ask within your own context to understand the wants of others around you (not what you believe they should want). It is more difficult to listen to understand than to do what you believe needs to be done – but that is the very first step to a recovery of our communities, homes, and economies.

Remain…

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.        —John 15:4-5 (Words of Jesus)

Life has often been a whirlwind of activity, going, doing, buying, visiting, working, etc, for many of us. This unprecedented time of complete shut down of community, country, countries, and the world has fallen upon many like a ton of bricks. Life can become confusing, frustrating, and even, for many, a time of great desperation and fear; as tremendous limitations and restrictions are placed upon us in this time of pandemic.

My life verses have always been Proverbs 3:5-6… “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” These verses have been, and are, very profound and special to me, and I meditate on them regularly. My confidence, hope, and trust are firmly founded, rooted, and steadfast in the one and only constant, faithful, and true God Almighty. For 34 years now, He has been my Savior, and for 26 years now I have served Him as my Lord.

Over all this time of knowing Jesus Christ, I have learned two very important and indispensable truths…
1.) God remains faithful always, unaltered and undeterred by situations, circumstances, my sin and failures, and the craziness of plagues, pandemics, tragedy, and devastation.
2.) As I remain in Him always, I also can be unaltered and undeterred by all the above mentioned things, and the fruits of my life are only because of Him.

The key word of these truths that I have learned is remain. Cambridge Dictionary defines remain as: “to stay in the same place or in the same condition.” When Jesus invites us to remain in Him, as the great vine, He is not speaking just of when it is sunny, comfortable, and easy; but rather in all circumstances and times. This ‘remaining’ in Him signifies great confidence, hope, and trust in Him to be faithful and true in all times, and in all things. When storms (pandemics, plagues, and atrocities) beat at the vine, it’s strength helps the branches. As we are branches in this great Vine (Jesus), our strength come from Him. The fruit we produce come about only as we remain in Him. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. A branch has no value, once separated from the vine. We must remain in Him, stay in place with Him, and stay in the same condition.

This covid-19 pandemic has forced many to be ‘stuck’ in the same place for extended periods of time. It is my hope that this can be a time for many of us to grow in the discipline of remaining in Jesus. As we keep Him first and foremost in our lives, now in the challenging times, it can (and should) be a discipline that we also maintain in times that are not as difficult. Remaining in Jesus is an intentional decision and discipline.

We are now in a time that forces us to remain at home, but it is my hope and prayer that this time will also help us to learn and choose even more what it means to remain in Jesus. Our source of life, love, hope, and truth is Him and Him alone. May we take time daily to spend with Him, remain in Him, and learn more of His heart and plan for our lives, so that as the doors and businesses begin opening we are found in Him and remain in Him. The fruits from our lives will be beautiful and bountiful only when we fully remain in Jesus, the true Vine. As He remains faithful and loving to me, I choose to remain in Him fully and completely, that He may produce great fruits for His glory. How about you?!

Making a Difference, Because It Matters to One!

Starfish Story

In all of my time leading Abogar International Ministries, or rather following and serving God as He leads Abogar, this story has always been (and is) an encouragement and reminder to me for why we do what we do. Many, like the old wise man, will look at the outputs of our ministry, and think that it really doesn’t matter, because there are so many children with such great need, and we, Abogar, are not able to impact all, or even many for that matter. The young man in this story reminds us, though, of a very critical point. Making a difference, even to just one, really does matter!

In this time of quarantine and lock down, I want to encourage us to take this mindset as well. Whether it is your husband, your wife, your child(ren), your parent(s), your sibling(s) your neighbor(s), or the person(s) renting from you, make a difference. Let us let love define us. Ephesians 5:2 from the Bible (NIV) contains my most favorite phrase, and, in my opinion, the must complete capture and command of God’s desire for humanity here on earth… “Live a life of love.” May this time of constraint and caution be a time defined in our homes by the rule of God’s love and light. May we live lives of love to one another, with God at the very heart and center of all that (or what little we can) do.

Satan is the promoter of selfishness, while God emulates and desires selflessness for us. In this time we may not be able to go out into the world to share the light and love of God to a hurting and lost world, but that does not mean that we are free from God’s command for us to be loving in our homes and places of enclosure. Being in tight quarters can cause for frustration and anger to intensify, and for us to lose our tempers much easier, especially as time seems to drag on. Let us be intentional to strive to be selfless. Let us live lives of love. Let us realize that the way we love, even in our most intimate places, matters… even if it only matters to one, or just a few. We can’t love on, help, or save the multitudes, especially in this time of quarantine, but may we love and help those closest to us. Be God’s love to them. May we be able to truly say to God, “I made a difference to that one.”

Giving Thanks… Always!

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.     I Thessalonians 5:16-18

The Bible challenges and commands for us to live prayerful lives, rejoicing and giving thanks to God always, in all circumstances. Gratitude is not optional, and should truly be a daily discipline and posture, as well as the desire of our hearts. It is striking to me that the command/directive of I Thessalonians 5:16-18 gives us an active imperative, an action that is continuously taking place… Rejoice ALWAYS, pray CONTINUALLY, give thanks ALWAYS. This is God’s will for us, and should be the focus of our heart, mind, and attitude always.

As we find ourselves in a world and time where corona-virus has much of the world in lock-down, when plagues are impacting many areas, natural disasters are occurring all over the globe, and evil is rampant as well, there are many things that cause great fear and anxiety, confusion and pain, tension and discord. Some individuals have resorted to withdrawal, blame, frustration, and complaints. Our natural tendency, and sinful nature, can often cause us to become discouraged, and focused upon, the negative in life. This action in and of itself can cause damage to our health, and leads us on a path away from living in gratitude and joy.

When I was approximately seven years old, an old wise man shared with me one of the most influential and freedom-giving truths of my life. He told me, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you, and it’s 90 percent how you respond.” There is about 10% of life that you have no control over… where you are born, color of your eyes, hair, or skin, who your family relations are, what tragedies, traumas, and natural disasters befall you and those around you, etc… but your response is the majority of your life existence. I have watched people ruin their lives just with how they have chosen to respond to hard life situations and circumstances. Full of blame and bitterness, they have allowed for the world to fall in on them and all around them.

Having myself come from some quite difficult life circumstances in my childhood and teenage years, I too could have chosen to respond with a victim mentality, choosing to be bitter and blaming others for all my faults and failures. However, those words of an old wise man have brought me, from a very young age, into accountability for my response to anything and everything I have encountered in life. I have responsibility for how I respond and react, and no one else is at fault for my response. There is about 90% of my life that is my response and responsibility!

With the Bible as my main guide, partnered with God’s Holy Spirit, I remember the first time I read I Thessalonians 5:16-18. I was still a young boy, living in immense abuse, but God opened my eyes to the beauty and blessings of life that He has created all around me every day, and instilled in me a heart of gratitude and praise, as well as a spirit of prayer and intercession. I learned, very young, to always be thankful, prayerful, and full of the joy of the Lord.

As our world has seemed to come to a pause of activity and flourishing plans and purposes, with this corona-virus pandemic all around us, God’s desire for us to be grateful and prayerful has not wavered. I want to encourage us to become people of gratitude, joy, and prayerful intercession. There is so much for which we can be thankful, and so much that needs our intercession and prayer. Thank God today for loved ones, for your eyes, your ears, your mouth, taste buds, nose, sense of touch, and the many true blessings that you have, even in hard times. Pray hard for those most affected by the pandemic, the tragedies, the traumas, injustice, and the sin that is prevalent in the world today.  Let us give thanks to God for the blessings of today, as they are many, rejoice in the gift of life, and pray, intercede, and rejoice with God our Father constantly. I am giving thanks… always! How about you?!?

Watch and Listen, Slow and Steady…

Every January Abogar International Ministries hosts a retreat for the Board of Directors. In the most recent years we have held it in San Diego, California, the official center and base of Abogar International Ministries. This retreat has been created specifically for the purpose of planning out direction and budget for the ministry for the current year, as well as to, in faith, look to the future. It is also a retreat to thank our board members, who faithfully meet (via skype) every month, without financial compensation, to help guide and direct Abogar International Ministries forward! Thank you, board members!

This year’s Board of Directors’ Retreat was blessed and productive. We worked through several issues that needed attention, and cast vision and direction for the future of Abogar. In the weeks leading up to the retreat, I sensed a nudging from the Lord. It seemed that He was calling me to propose that we reevaluate how ministry is being done in Guatemala, and that we consider an approach of observation rather than lots of ‘doing’ this year. In the retreat, as I shared this prompting that I had been sensing, the Board of Directors felt confirmation for this calling, and therefore we have designated our 2020 theme to be, “Watch and Listen, Slow and Steady”!

Now that we find ourselves in the throes of the corona virus pandemic, with governments imposing great restrictions on gatherings, activities, or events, how appropriate it is that God has been inviting Abogar to watch and to listen, to move slow and steady. I have also been hit with another conviction in the last few days. If God is calling us to Watch and Listen, He also expects us to respond in obedience when He shows us something, or tells us something! It may seem like a very obvious fact, but reality is that many of us would just get stuck in the watching and listening, or at least, I know I probably would.

For the past 5 years I have lived here in Guatemala, and served for Abogar, as we fight to help precious children and widows. We have been able to have great ministry outputs over these years, seen many children come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord, running our Vidas Nuevas Ministry, partnering with other ministries to provide blessing, and intervening is some very traumatic and unbelievable situations to provide freedom, victory, and safety. Our strategy and focus over this time has been to focus primarily on leadership development, team building, and human resources, rather than physical structures and properties. In our reevaluation as a board of directors, it has been determined that now is the appropriate and exact time that we need to try a different strategy and approach. While the greatest asset to our ministry will always be the volunteers and people we work with, not having a physical location of our own, from which to serve the community and children, has really worked to undermine the productivity and effectiveness of our ministry, and has caused great limitations for us. This year, while we continue fighting for precious children of Latin America, we will be largely focused on two important aspects for our ministry… a better financial base, and a physical location on the ground in Guatemala to work from.

For 8 years now, guiding Abogar forward, I have made lots of sacrifice in receiving salary. Some people suggest that it’s uncomfortable and not the wisest for me to discuss money, but I believe it is important to be honest and transparent. I Timothy 5:18 tells us that a worker is worth their wages. We have struggled to have me paid each year, and my salary is not very much at all. Now being a newly married husband, with hopes of children and a home in the future, there seems to be an even greater urgency for me to receive my pay. I don’t mention this for pity’s sake, but rather because Abogar would also like to expand our team of workers, to help lighten my load and expand the impact we can have as a ministry. If we have challenges to pay me in full, the Founder and CEO, we definitely need an even greater base of investors and support to have a greater team of workers fighting on behalf of the precious children! We really cannot move forward very quickly without this base of financial support and stability, and it further affirms that this year we shall Watch and Listen, Slow and Steady, to see and hear where God has more investors for eternal purposes with Abogar. I would like to note though, that we are VERY THANKFUL to each and every donor who has already committed to invest in the lives of the children through the ministry of Abogar! THANK YOU!

Recently I have been approached by a Christian couple here in Guatemala, who also are very invested in the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children. They have a property that they would like to consider renting to Abogar/AboGua to help us have the stability we need. Mike Holland, Abogar’s Vice-President of the Board of Directors, recently was here in Guatemala with me, and we visited the property. It is an ideal location and is spacious to be able to do ministry, have staff housing, and have classrooms and an office for AboGua. The cost per month would be considerably less than if we were trying to purchase a property, and a feasible and valuable expenditure of the ministry. There also may be potential to discuss purchasing the property, down the road, if it would behoove and be appropriate for Abogar. Mike was very much in affirmation of Abogar renting this property, and helped me recently to share about it with the whole Board of Directors. After discussing the property with the Board of Directors, we have affirmation, once the restrictions of corona virus have lifted, to pursue this property as a new strategy for Abogar/AboGua to reach the children.

Right now we are watching and listening, and things are definitely slow… and steady. Please join us in our prayerful petition to God for the provisions necessary for Abogar to have an even greater impact for the glory of God. We desire to multiply our Vidas Nuevas outreach, to have family and parent bible studies, to have a licensed therapist who can evaluate and work with the children, conferences for parents, tutoring for the children, and so much more! For all of this, we really need help from investors to increase our financial base and to have a property from which we can consistently and faithfully serve! If you are interested in joining our team of investors/donors today, visit abogarim.org/support/ to become a monthly or regular donor, or to make a one-time tax deductible gift! Join us as we Watch and Listen! May we see, hear, and obey God, for His glory! Amen!

In Trying Times… Letter from Abogar’s CEO

Dear Prayer Supporters, Financial Supporters, and Interested Parties of Abogar,

We find ourselves living in trying times in these days. With much fear and uncertainty that has infiltrated the whole world, one must maintain a clear mind and a disciplined life before God. With sickness, pestilence, and plague affecting large geographical areas around the globe, children suffering in all parts, the innocent and defenseless being murdered daily, how can we not be moved to want to somehow help? However, there are limitations due to the coronavirus, and the fears of it, that have caused for many governments to impose strong restrictions. In light of such restrictions, we want to encourage people to comply with their local and national authorities, so far as compliance is not in compromise of health or safety.

Prayer is always a very important way to help others, and I would encourage us to each ramp up our prayer life and commitment to intercession for our families, friends, communities, and for the global community as well!  James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other, so that we may be healed! This verse also reminds us that, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective!” Let us be about prayer! Let us be powerful and effective with our prayers, for God’s glory!

I am finding great resolve and comfort in knowing that none of the craziness in our world has caught God off guard. He is not surprised nor overwhelmed by sickness, calamity, nor the atrocities that are taking place around the earth. While it is very important that we are careful and wise in our actions (and responses), may we also be full of faith to truly trust God’s powerful hand and faithful presence through it all. My life verses, Proverbs 3:5-6, encourage us to trust God with all of our heart and to not lean on our own understanding. I confess that there is much in this world that I just do not understand. These verses conclude with an encouragement for us to keep God at the forefront and center of everything! As we at Abogar are striving to do this, it is with a great peace and calm, and we wish the same for each of you.

May we love lavishingly, care compassionately, and walk wisely each day. May our footprints, smiles, eyes, and lives bear great resemblance to the love of God. And may we be a people that provoke great faith, rather than gross fear! Enjoy the slow down that is mandatory, and reconnect with loved ones. Rekindle passions and dreams, and care well for those who you can. Let us become slow to speak and quick to listen, and slow to be come angry (James 1:19)! May our responses become more what Christ would speak through us, than what our emotions would speak. Let us love like Jesus, always!

On another note, today marks the 5 year mark for when Abogar first moved me here to Guatemala. Who could have known or imagined all that would transpire in these five years? Praise God that His plan always prevails, and that He is never surprised by the events that take place on this earth! In these 5 years I’ve served in a children’s home, worked for another children’s home, been a youth pastor, have helped to start and lead Abogar’s Vidas Nuevas ministry, have carried the casket of a child whose death could have been prevented, seen another child murdered in cold blood, have helped rescue a family from a gang that was threatening the lives of their children, have helped to see a newly widowed woman and her three fatherless children to pay off the title of their home from a rich loan-holder, and have developed relationships with many children, volunteers, and ministries here… just to list some of things that have happened.

None of the accomplishments and forward progress that I and Abogar have made here would be possible without your generous prayer and financial support. Thank you very much for your continued support! We can not do what we do without you! In these trying times, your continued help makes it possible for us to continue to love on and fight for children! Thank you!!

Sincerely,
Jesse Rivers
President, CEO
Abogar International Ministries

20/20 Vision… Called, Convicted, and Committed…

2020 is here! I hope that our vision is 20/20 vision, guided and directed by God Himself! Over the last few months God has been placing three words on my heart and mind a lot… called, convicted, and committed. Though most may not know it, and may not want to know it, we all have been called by God to be about His will and plan for our lives. That calling should also be accompanied with a conviction that convinces us where and how God is leading us. As we are called and convicted, we then must decide whether or not we are committed to what God is leading us into. This is obedience.

For many the calling is a general calling, and for others it is a very specific call. I have often been approached by fellow believers who ask me how they can know the will of God for them. As I do believe that God has a general will and calling for all of humanity, my response usually goes like this…

He has shown you, oh man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you;
to do justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God.
Micah 6:8

However, God does not always just give a general call on our lives. To some He has given specific and direct callings. You can see throughout the Bible several individuals who have received specific and direct callings. Some examples are Moses, David, Joshua, Elijah, Mary, the disciples, and Paul… to just mention a few.

I know that I have also received a specific calling from God. Being about the mission of God’s heart, as clearly stated throughout much of the Bible and very succinctly in James 1:27, is a high calling of surrender, sacrifice, and service. To this God has called me…

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after the orphaned and the widowed in their distress,
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:27

As I think about justice, I am not sure that I can think of a greater injustice that has ever existed than the abandonment and devaluation of children’s lives in much of society throughout the history of humanity. As I have read through the Bible numerous times, and observe world news regularly, I am convicted and heart-broken by children being the focus of large executions, being eaten, being stolen, and even shooed away from the very presence of Jesus. As Jesus observed such dismissal of these precious ones while He walked this earth, His response was, “Let them come to me, for the Kingdom of Heaven is for such as these.” I am convicted that God’s heart truly does long and beat to bless His children. Are you convicted too?

Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17

God is the God of great plans, purposes, and provision for His children. He also invites us to be a part of His heart to and for the children. He gives good and perfect gifts, and even has adopted us, His children, into His kingdom. I am not only convicted, but also convinced, that one of God’s greatest grievances against humanity is our lack of commitment and value to protect, defend, provide for, and love these children well.

As I have been convicted of this issue, convinced of God’s calling for us to join Him in defending and fighting for these precious children, I have become committed to this cause! It has now been over 25 years of my life that I have committed to advocating for children, loving on them, and serving however and wherever God has clearly called and desired for me to be! Praise God that others have been very committed to this core cause and calling of God’s heart as well!

To those of you who have committed to be about God’s heart for children, I applaud, commend, and personally thank you for your faithfulness in that. To others though, I am not sure where you are in the journey of life, but I am praying for God to give you a called, convicted, and committed heart for precious children; whether in your own backyard or wherever He see fit to call you. Please don’t stop at conviction, for conviction in and of itself can be merely feeling or emotion, if not partnered with commitment. Become convinced of God’s heart and calling, and give yourself to Him, being committed to participate in the need of children wherever and however He would invite you to do so!

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anythi
ng.
James 1:2-4

In serving God by loving children, there are many challenges. God invites us to persevere. The accusations, judgments, and misunderstandings of others in no way remove the effectiveness and value of the investment and ministry to these precious children. If there were not challenges or trials, testings of our faith, we would not truly develop nor demonstrate perseverance. While we each fall short of perfection, God is faithful to help and hold us as we live a life of service to Him. I fear not the judgments, false accusations, rumors, nor complaints that humans may have for me. I know that I am called, convicted, and committed to fight for precious children of Latin America; orphaned, abandoned, abused, and vulnerable. My commitment has not, and will not waver or fade, when challenges and trials present themselves. I consider it pure joy to serve God by loving on precious children of Latin America, and I thank the many of you who have joined me and Abogar in this calling, conviction, and commitment!

In this year, 2020,  may you each know what God’s calling for your life is, be convicted with certainty of it, and become committed to live out that calling for God’s glory! May 2020 bring 20/20 vision to us all! You are called! Be convicted! Be committed!

Reunification, Lucas, and Dee.

Yesterday, October 2nd, was an interesting day for me. I had received an invitation from a friend of mine, whom we will call Dee, who is a lawyer here in Guatemala, who fights on behalf of children. She shared with me about a precious 5 month old baby boy, whom we will call Lucas. Lucas has had an unfortunate start in life. While his mother was pregnant with him, his parents decided that they would abort him. They paid a doctor a substantial amount of money, but the doctor’s conscience and convictions led him to not follow through with an abortion, but rather he performed a c-section surgery, saving precious Lucas and turning him over to the government. The parents were then reported by the doctor for trying to take his life at 7 months gestation. After substantial medical treatment, Lucas was then placed into a children’s home, where Dee took up his case.

Over the last few months, Dee has been working with the government and Lucas’ family, to give the proper counseling, training, and improvement to Lucas’ parents. The mother and aunt are now really excited to have Lucas as a family member, though his father still seems a bit hands off. Dee will continue working with them to ensure Lucas’ success and growth. Dee is a Guatemalan, with her own hurts and challenges from her childhood and past, but she is to me a great example for others, especially other Guatemalans! Though she has several things that she could have allowed to hold her back, she has overcome them and made it a life goal, mission, and practice to fight for precious children, helping them to be reunited and reintegrated when appropriate, or adopted or removed when there was not a safe home situation.

On our 3+ hour trip yesterday, I got to spend time loving on, holding, and praying for precious Lucas. He took to me well, and I was so pleased to receive his smiles and hugs. Then being able to see the process of reunification with his mother and aunt, as their eyes lit up and smiles overtook their faces as they got to meet him, really touched my heart tremendously. The long drive back gave me a time to get to know Dee better as well, and I feel thoroughly blessed with all the events of yesterday.

I would like to praise God for the doctor who saved Lucas, for Dee and others who have fought to get Lucas reunited with his mother and aunt, and for Lucas, the precious 5 month old baby boy who stole my heart yesterday! I would like to ask you to join me in praying for Lucas; for him to experience great love and family, to know God and His love, and for God to use his life and testimony for His glory! I praise God for reunification, for Dee and others like her who will fight for precious children, and for dear adorable little Lucas and the potential his life and story have for God’s glory! Thank You, Jesus! Amen!

Moving Forward In Transition…

Please read the following two letters… one from Abogar International Ministries’ Board of Directors and one from Abogar’s CEO… to learn about the soon coming transition for Abogar. We are excited for next steps, and hope you’ll join us with your continued financial and prayer support!

LETTER FROM THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Personnel Relocation

Dear Friends of Abogar,

The Abogar International Ministries’ Board of Directors has discussed and approved relocating Jesse Rivers, Abogar’s CEO currently working from Guatemala, back to the U.S. in December of this year. As many of you may know, we have seen considerable and beautiful fruits of the ministry over the past four and a half years in Guatemala. While there is still much to be accomplished, this personnel relocation is a pertinent step and strategy to see Abogar Guatemala (AboGua) reach self-sustainability.

An important mission strategy for Abogar is to develop local leaders and workers to whom we can pass the ministry. This aligns with the popular missionary motto: “Work yourself out of a job.” Transitioning Jesse to the U.S. will give an opportunity for local Guatemalan workers and volunteers to rise up and take more ownership. We hope and believe that, building on the connections and investments Jesse has made, all our partnerships and programs will continue and grow. We also anticipate that this move will facilitate other growth and development for Abogar.

We express our gratitude to Jesse for his great work in Guatemala over these past years, and his continued commitment to help lead Abogar International Ministries forward. We thank you, our supporters, for continued prayer and financial support during this time of transition.

Sincerely,
Abogar International Ministries’ Board of Directors

 

LETTER FROM THE CEO
Personnel Relocation

Dear Donors, Prayer Supporters, and Friends of Abogar,

With great anticipation of God’s continued faithfulness, plans, and work in Abogar International Ministries and Abogar Guatemala, I would like to share with you today that I and the Board of Directors have decided that in December, 2019, I will be relocating back to San Diego, California. This relocation will allow me, as CEO, to continue leadership development and implementation from an international approach. We believe that now is the strategic time to offer space and opportunity to the Guatemalans, to enable self-sustainability of Abogar Guatemala. Our goal has been to raise up local leadership fighting for local children to have forever homes, forever families, and educational opportunities.

As I continue in the role of CEO, we anticipate my returning to Guatemala for three or four visits annually, to support the continued growth. I will also maintain regular communication with leadership of AboGua while I am in San Diego. It will also allow for the Abogar International Ministries’ board of directors to consider what ways God may be calling for us to expand and/or grow the ministry of Abogar in Latin America.

We are excited about this transition, and would ask for your continued prayers and financial support, to continue growing and implementing the mission, vision, and model of Abogar International Ministries in Latin America. Thank you for your continued support!

Sincerely In Christ,
Jesse Rivers
Founder, CEO
Abogar International Ministries

When The Heart Is Sick…

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)

Over the last six months I have thought a lot about the heart of people and of myself, and its state of being. Something new has come to my mind and to my own heart that I would like to share with you! I was not really aware of the health of my heart! My heart is sick, desperately sick!

Humanity encounters challenges daily that may or may not engage our hearts, but sometimes the not engaging of our hearts is as much a response as an engaged heart. I have at times witnessed what seems like heartless people; who care not for their fellow human, much less for themselves, except in a blind selfishness and vanity. I have also witnessed others who give their heart away to anyone that would give them attention, even if motivations and intents are selfish and/or malicious. Others who have had their hearts broken so many times have succumbed to the victim mentality that holds them in a prison of shame and perceived worthlessness. Their hearts are not only broken, but also sick. I have also met some people with extremely huge hearts to help and love others, at great hope, sacrifice, and cost to themselves, to the extent of suffering physical and emotional sickness.

Proverbs 4:3 admonishes us to be very intentional to, “Guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Such wisdom is found in these words, but I am going to make a confession here.  I have not guarded my heart! Now, though some believe I love too easily and too strongly, I do not believe that I have failed to guard my heart in this way. Though I love passionately and fully, I have tried to always be prayerful and discerning in my romantic life. I have had more than one wealthy woman promise to by me a beach front home (knowing how much I absolutely love to be at the beach) if I would just marry them, but I have guarded my heart, as they were not God’s best for me. Last year I was asked by four different women to marry each of them. Obviously, I guarded my heart and did not give in to the temptation. Being 40 and single is not my heart’s desire, but I really am striving to wait on the Lord for my life-mate. Romantic love is not the sickness I am talking about in my heart. So, you ask, how have I not guarded my heart?

About six months ago God started bringing the above verse, Proverbs 13:12, to my attention. “Hope deferred…” There are two prominent situations of deferred hope in my life that are causing for my heart to truly be sick. First, family… I long to be a part of family. It may be strange to hear a 40 year old man speak about still longing to be adopted, officially accepted and taken into a forever home and forever family, but it is a daily longing of my heart and life. Seasons of the year enjoyed together, holidays with security of a place and people to share with, a place I can truly call home, a mom and dad to call my own, and to have the great privilege and blessing to share with friends, “Hey, I am headed home.” There is an oxymoron of an expression that says, ‘Home is where the heart is.’ My heart is laying in an infirmity bed, and I guarantee that that is not where my ‘home’ is!

Here I would like to give a big ‘Thank You!’ to the many who would have tried being ‘like’ family to me, and I do not in anyway discredit your intentions and love for me. In fact, I have grown to love many different families over my years, all around the world. However, something that is ‘like’ something is not truly the original something. When I have been treated ‘like’ family it is and has been circumstantial and different than how the family members interact with their biological families. Pardon the bluntness. This is probably why my heart has hoped and longed for a miraculous situation of some family adopting a grown up adult man… me… to truly, officially, be a forever part of their family and home. It is completely legal and accepted (though very uncommon) in the US for an adult to be legally adopted. I long to be adopted. I know God has adopted those of us who accept and obey Him to be His very own children. He doesn’t only adopt us if we accept Him as a child, but even if we don’t come to know Him until we are middle-aged or elderly, He still adopts us into His family. As hope for my earthly family has been long deferred, my heart has become sick.

The second situation of deferred hope that has caused sickness in my heart is the longing and hope I have to change the world for precious children who have not family nor home, or who come from very vulnerable, horrific, and unimaginable situations! Remembering the abuses I suffered as a child… not just a spank on the bottom, but bloody beatings, tree limbs slashing my legs, back, and buttocks. Clorox poured down my throat. Hands around my throat trying to choke the life out of me. Isolation. Deprivation. Waking to an enraged man swear death upon me and begin to physically kick me, jump on me, and throw my body against things. Sexual, physical, verbal, mental, and emotional abuse. (Many have been angry at my abusers, but God has done a miraculous thing of showing me how to truly forgive and hope the best for the abusers and violators I encountered in my childhood and beyond.) I share not for pity, but because God has used that great pain of my life to challenge my heart and life to hope to be a help to a multitude of children who suffer similar, and often far worse, situations.

I am not rich, I am not wealthy financially, and I do not have the resources (people, ideas, finances, logistical/administrative/technological abilities) to do the very things I believe that God is calling His children to do! My second hope deferred has been that the vision of Abogar, which I truly believe is God’s heart and vision, would catch on fire among His children, to truly become part of the greatest solution… moving away from temporal care and offering precious children life-long Christ-centered homes and family to belong in. This hope is that people would invest their time, talents, and treasures in the legally established 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit ministry of Abogar International Ministries. Now several are doing so, and to them we are forever grateful, but honestly we are very depleted in funds and resources. I need a team of people around me to help me keep Abogar moving forward… a social media specialist, a US director of operations, a book-keeper/accountant with knowledge of tax requirements for a non-profit, on the ground support and team in Guatemala, regional directors for areas of Latin America, etc. etc. These positions require pay, but we have so low funding right now that I am delayed in yet being paid this year. Abogar also needs finances to purchase property, and teams to come help us clean, construct, and use the property in excellence for God’s glory! My second hope that has been deferred is to have an impact globally to change the model we have used for centuries and centuries with children who are vulnerable, orphaned, and/or living in the streets. We believe in a forever home and forever family model, where the children never age out, and always will have a family and home to return to while here on this earth, no matter their age! My hope is huge, and yet it has been so deferred, as we seem to move forward one step and be shoved back three steps. I am not trying to be Negative Nancy, but reality is my hope deferred is making my heart sick!

Good news though, as I have been reading and researching in the Bible about the heart, I have come upon another gem of a verse… In Philippians 4:6-7 Paul admonishes us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I may not have guarded my heart very well, and it has become sick, but I am remembering now to present my requests to God, and asking Him to fulfill or align them as His heart so desires. I thank God for the challenges and struggles I am facing daily in ministry, because I know that, though I don’t often see how, He is work making greatness out of my feeble offering and sacrifice! I am trusting God’s peace to guard my heart! When the heart is sick, and I believe it is often, if not always, desperately sick, we must remember to bend our knees to the one who loves us so, and ask God Almighty to heal and guard our hearts for His glory!

The Men and Women Who Dream…

“I have a dream…” These words (and the full speech) are among some of the most powerfully delivered and most frequently remembered of speeches given in the last 150 years. Throughout the annals of human existence though, we encounter a vast array of testimonies of people who have sacrificed and struggled a lot, but who dreamed great dreams and accomplished great feats. I, Jesse Rivers, am not sure if Martin Luther King, Jr. had a grasp on the impact that his words would have, but I am certain he hoped for an even greater impact, as he truly was a dreamer for things of greatness.

Are you one who dreams great things for the glory of God? I was very moved in my inner being when I first watched the movies Braveheart, Amistad, and Amazing Grace. These movies actually move me every time I see them or remember them. I am not a movie buff, nor am I trying to promote any specific movie here, but these movies each speak to the reality that life has much challenge, struggle, evil, and sacrifice for humanity to overcome. Each of these movies, based on real life people and events, show the heart of men and women who dream for better things, for justice, for freedom, for peace.

William Wilberforce, who’s life is portrayed in the movie, Amazing Grace, is one of my all-time greatest heroes. Against all odds and opposition, he dedicated his life to a dream that God gave him; to eradicate slavery in Great Britain. He, along with a team of encouragers and dreamers, sacrificed many years to the cause of seeing all humans being valued wholly, not based on their skin color or work that they could do. William Wilberforce dreamed of eradicating slavery in Great Britain. Though much sacrifice was required, he prevailed to see the dream come to reality.

Yesterday, sitting in a church service, I listened to a Guatemalan pastor confess that too many Christians are complicit with the evils that are prevailing in this world (and this country). The pastor shared how it is well known, in an area quite close to where I live, that children as young as three and four years old are forced into slavery, to make fireworks. (Fireworks are legal in Guatemala, and used daily.) These children’s fingers are very small and agile for the work, and they are forced to work in an area below the ground, in case of an accident/explosion. They receive no wages, though some of their parents, who are complicit, receive money for allowing them to be forced into this slavery. The corruption in the government and law enforcement, and very real presence of gangs and drug lords in Guatemala is so staggering that, though this is common knowledge, there is not much for justice that can be pursued here on the ground.

Not only are there children being forced to make fireworks, children (even infants) are often seen in the streets, at times with their families, forced to be selling candies and trinkets. Other children, boys and girls, younger than can be imagined, are being sexually abused by their parents and family members. Some girls are raped by their fathers, become pregnant, and then are forced to marry their abusive fathers. Others flee for their lives, and end up selling themselves for survival. This is truth, not exaggeration for a dramatic effect. Others are abandoned, abused in other ways, or neglected and forced to fend for themselves. So, what do this have to do with men and women who dream?…

Well, I would like to find the men and women of God, who dream as I dream, to eradicate the cultural and systemic strongholds that perpetuate these problems! I dream of finding and encouraging cultures and countries to actually agree with God, on His design, that the basic building blocks of a strong and healthy community are God first, and secondly, strong family with principles, values, and morals. God’s design, for a man and woman being the pair that parent their children as the most stable and functional system for society, is the correct model. Even if you remove God from the picture, which we won’t, you still will find that statistics demonstrate best case scenarios for family and society is a male and female married couple, parenting their children together!

My dream may sound simplistic, but it is anything but simple. I believe in an overhaul of the systemic way we have worked with children in foster care, orphanages, children’s homes, and/or living in the streets! I believe that a different model must become embraced and used worldwide. My dream is to see humans stop focusing just on the childhood portion of a life, but to truly value the whole life of a person! Foster care, orphanages, and children’s homes, though often done by people with good hearts and intentions, promote the idea that we value and focus on the importance of childhood, only to abandon and fail those children as soon as they age out and become adults! Call it independence or adulthood, or however you’d like to justify it, but it is abandonment. Instead of using a model that focuses on just a portion of a persons life, my dream is that we return to God’s original model, that we value the children enough to do the hard work to ensure them of life-long family and home; that they don’t have to fear aging out and losing the stability and place of belonging!

I sit here in a coffee shop, a forty year old man, and my very inner being longs right now to truly have a family… to have those whom I can call Mom and Dad, who see me not as an inclusion or attachment to their family, but as truly part of the family, included as all other children are in what happens in the family. As I sit here I also long for grandparents, for aunts and uncles, cousins and nephews. I am FORTY, and I still long for this! The desire for family and home does not miraculously cease when you ‘become an adult’, and yet we for centuries and centuries have acted like all these children need is to grow up and become adults! We pride ourselves in helping children, and pat ourselves on the back when they reach adulthood, but the staggering statistics show clearly that children who age out of foster care, orphanages, and children’s homes are the most likely to fail… ending up in gangs, jail, suicide, prostitution, addictions, and human trafficking! Yet, we pat ourselves on the back and the system and cycle continues, as new orphaned children, foster children, and the abandoned and abused fall into this failing system! Let us not be blind, but let us clearly call out what does not work and change it!

I believe that Albert Einstein is credited with the quote, “Insanity is: doing the same thing over and over and over again, expecting different results.” It is insanity that we continue a model with these precious children that for centuries has been failing the large majority! I am an exception to the norm, I know, as God has miraculously carried me beyond where I could have ever imagined. But just because there are some (a relatively few) positive testimonies should not be an excuse to continue a failing system and model! My dream is to see Abogar’s Homes of Hope model prevail, which is based on God’s model, where children become truly grafted into forever families and forever homes, that do NOT end once they become adults, but rather continue to be places of stability, family, hope, support, love, and encouragement! You may think I am crazy or idealistic, but the craziness and insanity is actually in the complacency and comfort we have with a model that does not work, and in the resistance we give to changing that model!

So where are the men and women who will dream with me, with Abogar? It will take a lot of resources to see this model changed, and the model God desires to be truly implemented! It will require dialogue  and partnership with churches, businesses, governments, individuals, and families. We need a bigger team. We need more finances. We need our own property in Guatemala. We need advocates and committed and determined dreamers, to join us to move forward in the process of changing a model! Will it be easy? NO! Will it be quick? NO! Will it be worth it? I believe wholeheartedly YES! Let’s not only dream together, but work together to see the slavery, abuse, neglect, and horrific circumstances come to a screeching halt! So, men and women who dream, reach out to us at info@abogarim.org today, and let us know how you can join in this dream to help us make it a reality!! I have a dream…

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