Enjoy a few recent highlights from Nigeria:
Back2Back Nigeria is expanding to impact more children than ever before. By launching child sponsorship at Kids with a Vision Children’s Home, training local farmers to best utilize their resources and expanding the Hope Program, we are improving the quality of care for the children and families we serve.
Spiritual Growth at the Hope House
This summer, the boys who live at the Back2Back Hope House were given the opportunity to begin a personal relationship with Jesus. During morning devotions with their house father, Moses, Chomo, Kabo, John and Jeremiah indicated a commitment to following Jesus. The boys continue to grow in their understanding of the Bible through daily study and family worship.
A New Zeal for Education
Prior to heading back to school, Deborah and Nehemiah, the house parents at Back2Back’s Hope House, shared with the boys about the importance of hard work in school and how that directly correlates with educational success. The boys headed back to school with a new zeal for their studies. On the first day, the boys were awake and ready to go hours before school started. They are deeply committed to their studies. They don’t need to be reminded to complete assignments and help each other finish their homework. They didn’t even want to watch T.V. the entire first week of school. Kabo’s teacher noticed his new work ethic and asked him what was different this year. He shared with her, “Nehemiah and Deborah [my house parents] tell us when we work hard, God helps us succeed.”
Strengthening Families through Farming
Back2Back began partnering with Nigerian farmers in a community development project. Four farmers are being trained, learning to harvest the land to feed their families and generate additional income. Next year, twelve more farmers plan to complete the program. Back2Back’s goal is to mentor 100 local farmers within the next five years. This initiative will help equip the community for self-sustainable enterprise and ultimately strengthen families as a measure of preventative orphan care.
Kids with a Vision Foundation
Child sponsorship will begin at Kids with a Vision Foundation Children’s Home. Back2Back provides school fees, transportation and homework assistants for the twenty children who live at the home.
Join us in praying for Nigeria:
- Pray for new staff who are raising support to serve with Back2Back Nigeria in January.
- We are planning to launch a second Hope House in Nigeria next summer. Pray for God to provide the resources necessary to make this dream a reality.
- Pray for sponsors for the children at Kids with a Vision Foundation, and for God to provide the resources necessary to meet the needs of the children at that home.
It’s been almost two years since Back2Back first forged a relationship with Harvest Care Children’s Home outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The concrete walls, the dusty ground and murky swamp surrounding the shell of a building was jarring. The interior was stark too – bare except for a rickety kitchen table and a sparsely furnished sleeping area. The children relied on a basic outdoor kitchen and make-shift bathroom in a ditch on the edge of the property. The fridge was often empty. Many of the children were undernourished.
What the directors of the home lacked in resources, they made up for with their deep dedication to the sixteen children who called Harvest Care home. They engaged with each child through intentional play and meaningful interactions, nurturing them, carving out a space of safety and love for them to grow socially and emotionally. As our relationship with the directors grew, Back2Back formed a partnership with the home. Staff and mission teams began filling the swamp with truckloads of gravel, building bunk beds for each child, outfitting the home with a new kitchen, laying a cement patio in place of sharp rocks, building a playground and overhauling indoor plumbing so the children would no longer have to rely on outdoor plumbing. The property today looks vastly different from just two short years ago.
Children were quickly sponsored through Back2Back’s Child Sponsorship Program, meeting basic everyday needs. For the first time, caregivers had the resources to supplement the children’s diet ensuring they received balanced meals and daily vitamins. Staff and volunteers quickly noticed a marked improvement in the their overall health and energy levels. Today, the children are healthy and strong. The pantry is fully stocked and the shelves of the fridge are lined with fresh fruits and vegetables. With full bellies, the children are finally able to concentrate in school – thriving academically. When Back2Back staff step onto the property, the children run to them, smiling and laughing – bright, vibrant smiles.
God is moving in the hearts of the children of Harvest Care, using caregivers, mission trips guests and staff to continue to provide crucial care and support. In the midst of a country struggling to recover from the devastation of an earthquake, Harvest Care continues to transform. Children are receiving deep holistic care – spiritually, physically, educationally, emotionally and socially. Sixteen lives, sixteen boys and girls, know they are loved. They are not forgotten. They are sons and daughters of a big God who sees and loves them.
Opportunities in Education
The children are performing well in school. However, there is an opportunity to further their education by encouraging independent thought, reasoning, creativity and the application of knowledge. The goal is to hire two additional campus teachers to invest in the children’s academic growth and facilitate opportunities for the children to practice creative problem solving.
Celebrating Campus Improvements
- Last month, for the first time, we hosted a mission team on the Back2Back India Suzuki Samuel Hope Campus! In the future, the building referred to as House 4 will become home to ten more children. For now, it will be used as housing for teams who serve with us.
- Electricity for the campus is now coming from a line with the capacity to supply power for the entire campus. The campus does still experience “power cuts” with the new source. However, the duration of the outages are now very brief.
- The campus is also now benefiting from garbage collection services. There is no garbage truck. Instead, a gentleman on a bicycle-powered cart stops daily to collect the rubbish so we no longer have to burn it. These upgrades contribute to the efficiency, cleanliness and overall positive environment of the campus.
As mentioned in the last update, a friend of Back2Back funded the purchase of several children’s bicycles (called “cycles” in India) for the campus. The cycles are a thrill for the children while encouraging exercise. Now that the rainy season is tapering off, seven of the bikes have been presented to the children. What joy it is to see the experienced riders confidently zoom around the campus and then offer a turn and coaching to novice riders! View a video of the children with their new bicycles here.
Maggie, a junior at the University of South Carolina, is spending a semester in a program at the University of Hyderabad. Maggie’s family sponsors a young woman through Back2Back. Maggie has visited and spent time with her several times since arriving in Hyderabad in July. Most recently, Maggie arranged to spend the day with the sponsored child and three of her friends. She took them on a tour of her university’s campus and she helped the girls visualize a future with the opportunity for higher education.
New India Staff
We’re looking forward to Dan Belue joining our staff team in the near future. He will be a great help to us as we minister to the needs of the 25 children currently living on the campus. Pray for his transition.
First International Intern
We’re also excited to have the first Back2Back India international intern serving with us. Rupa George joined our India team in September. Rupa is living on the campus and is making great investments by teaching English to the children and the caregivers while also assisting with meal prep and overall campus care.
Pray with Us
- Please pray for wisdom as we navigate changes in the educational approach in India. Pray for us as we work toward identifying qualified and called candidates, and as we structure the additional educational opportunities.
- Please pray for wisdom and discernment as we interview a potential new caregiver and a campus guard.
- Over the summer, two new caregivers (Swaroopa and Mounika) joined staff. Together with Swarna, Rajani and Sharon, we’re growing closer to the ratios of caregivers we need in order to facilitate family-style care for the children. Please pray for our caregivers.
Sandeep’s palms began to sweat as a friend approached him, cricket ball in hand. Sandeep wiped his brow and tightened the grip on his bat as he waited for the pitch. As his bat connected, adrenaline pumped through his veins and he felt exhilarated—playing this game was when he felt most alive.
Only recently had Sandeep decided to devote so much of his time to developing his cricket skills, spending hours each day perfecting his hitting. Last year was difficult. His father passed away from a liver condition on Sandeep’s fourteenth birthday. When his father died, an intense pressure fell on Sandeep’s thin shoulders. In his culture, boys are expected to provide for the family. When a family has a son, they know their future is secure. Sandeep took this responsibility seriously, diving into his studies to prepare himself for a stable job. He was determined not to let his family—or his father—down.
Then, Sandeep met Jake. Jake visited the Samuel Suzuki India Hope Campus on a Back2Back mission trip this past spring. Jake and Sandeep connected quickly. They spent a lot of time together playing cricket, sharing stories and cracking jokes. Sandeep found a trustworthy friendship by confiding in Jake, and he allowed himself to show glimmers of vulnerability. And at the end of the week, Jake and his wife Shannon decided to continue the relationship by sponsoring Sandeep through Back2Back’s Child Sponsorship Program. Sandeep was ecstatic.
Soon after Jake’s visit, Back2Back introduced a concept called nurture groups – a safe space where children with difficult pasts learn to process their feelings under the care of trained and trusted staff. Sandeep and two other boys his age meet regularly. Back2Back staff, Courtney and Michael, foster growth and progress by leading them through guided exercises, gently encouraging them to give voice to their emotions. For the first time, Sandeep has found a way to express his emotions and process the pain of his father’s death. In a recent group, Sandeep surprised himself when he began to quietly cry—an uncommon expression of emotion in his culture. He felt a sense of relief, as months of built-up pressure began to dissipate.
Sandeep is becoming more at ease with himself and his emotions due in large part to the healing he has experienced from Jake’s investment in his life and Sandeep’s participation in the nurture group. Lately, Back2Back staff noticed a change in the way he carries himself and how he interacts with his friends.
Sandeep finishes his cricket game and sits in his usual spot on the porch of his home. There, he talks with roommates, siblings and Back2Back staff, smiling and laughing as his friends share about their day. Sandeep is friendly, approachable and inquisitive – intentional to include everyone in the conversation. Confidence growing, he stands taller and makes eye contact, listening intently. As Sandeep pursues freedom, he’s encouraging others to do the same. The same boy who once struggled to find words to express his own inner pain is now reaching out to his friends, drawing them out, helping them find their voice. Sandeep continues to take his studies seriously, but he has also learned to give himself the freedom to explore his interests, discover new passions and even dream about a future as a professional cricket player.
Blanca stared intently at the calendar on the wall. She wasn’t sure she was ready for what was to come next month. She glanced around and noticed the room was empty. Turning back to the calendar, she sighed. As she flipped from July to August, she saw her name scrawled in the square on August 23rd—her 12th birthday.
Birthdays can be bittersweet for Blanca. Living at a children’s home, birthdays can be a painful reminder of the life you’re missing, the family you wish was there to celebrate. She thought of her mom, who she only saw on occasion. Would her mother remember her birthday this year? Blanca shook her head, trying to erase memories of forgotten birthdays, as she slung her backpack over her shoulder and headed off to school.
After school, Blanca dropped her backpack by the kitchen table and pulled up a chair next to Mary, a local volunteer who has connected with Blanca through Back2Back’s volunteer mentorship program. Each week, Mary spends time with Blanca—doing homework, making crafts or baking a delicious treat. As they talked that day, Mary could tell something was different. Blanca looked down at her science homework, as she quietly opened up about eleven years of birthday disappointment. Determined to give Blanca a birthday to remember, Back2Back staff and Del Norte caregivers coordinated with Blanca’s sponsors to celebrate her in a special way.
On August 23rd, Blanca’s birthday arrived with a bang. Back2Back staff and volunteers arranged a spa day to pamper Blanca and her friends. She gasped when she saw the group of friends gathered to celebrate her big day. The day far exceeded Blanca’s expectations. Feet were washed and toes painted. Hands were massaged with lotion and fingernails were filed. Blanca, who loves to bake, was ecstatic to receive a cupcake maker. As the day drew to a close, the girls indulged in Blanca’s favorite dessert, vanilla bean cheesecake, before gathering around their friend for a special birthday prayer.
After the party, Blanca looked at the calendar again. She put her fingers on her birthday again, but this time tears of joy streamed down her cheeks. Smiling, she wiped her eyes as she slipped her perfectly manicured toes into bed. Blanca no longer dreads August. In fact, she can’t wait to celebrate again next year. Thank you for being like family for the children at Del Norte Children’s Home.
I have lost count the number of times people have asked, “What does One21 have to do with global orphan care?” or “Why would a youth ministry initiative be a strategic part of Back2Back’s plan?” From its beginning, One21’s goal has been to resource emerging generations to live like Jesus with hearts set on forever. Through Back2Back, One21 has worked to empower students to serve orphans and vulnerable children. In the summer of 2015, God illustrated a colorful design of what He is doing among emerging generations, and just how perfectly One21 and Back2Back could be intertwined.
A cloud of colorful dust was rising from the crowd that was forming a conga line just outside the palapa hut. The band energetically led the crowd in songs of celebration and worship under the palapa. People were everywhere – dancing, throwing color powder, laughing and singing their hearts out. The community was a reflection of the Kingdom of God. A mini-retreat with mission trip participants, teenagers from children’s homes, Hope Program students and Back2Back staff was a reality. The story God has been writing was evidenced that week through the depth of community in Monterrey, Mexico under the palapa.
Flashback to 2011. A small group of nine One21 youth workers gathered under the palapa at the Back2Back Monterrey campus for a night of extended worship. It felt like a sacred moment. As we waited, prayed, sang and paced the floor of the palapa, an idea began to take hold. What if the resources were created to invest in teenagers from the children’s homes in Monterrey? That night, with the inception of this idea, the trajectory and mission of One21 changed. I had been sold on investing in emerging generations in the US and sending people and resources to Back2Back while supporting holistic orphan care from a distance. I couldn’t yet connect how One21 could BE that resource that would deepen spiritual and social development among students in two countries. The potential of this new vision was exciting, but just how it would be executed was still vague.
A few months later, Beth Guckenberger, Back2Back Co-Executive Director, shared the vision to integrate One21 programming into children’s homes in Mexico with the Monterrey site directors, Antonio and Priscilla Garcia. Little did she know, Antonio and Priscilla had concurrently felt the pull to take the Hope Program students on a spiritual retreat. The Garcias wanted to understand how One21 structured retreats. One21’s desire to cultivate relationships and impact students from two countries grew. By February 2012, the initial cross-cultural integration began as One21 led a spiritual retreat for teenagers we serve at children’s homes in Monterrey.
This brings us back to 2015, which marked the fourth One21 retreat in Monterrey. Until 2015, youth retreats in Monterrey and Ohio reflected each other in content and influence, with a focus on spiritual and social development, but they were held in respective countries. At each retreat, we shared stories of how God was speaking to students in other places around the world. It had seemed far-fetched to think the students from Ohio and Mexico could celebrate what God was doing among their generation together on the same soil.
But here we were, back at the palapa in Monterrey four years later. However, this time, instead of an intimate gathering of nine, there were over 150 people: students from One21 churches, teens from local children’s homes, students from the Hope Program and a slew of Back2Back staff and interns.
“The night of worship with One21 kids from Monterrey and the U.S. showed me the Kingdom of God in a very real way. Most of the time we talk about the Kingdom with metaphors and other conceptual language. But in Monterrey, I saw it break out in ways I could touch,” shared Stew Sheckler, a student from BeaverCreek Christian Church in Ohio.
We couldn’t fit all in the palapa that night. Scattered throughout the adjacent field, we celebrated the name of Jesus with dancing, shouts of joy, singing and a lot of colored powder. Each student worshipped as they threw color into the air in celebration. The colorful expression reflected the creativity of God. Our God knit together an adventure that drew His children together. It is the desire of One21 to help emerging generations live like Jesus by inviting students into an experience of real community. That night, under the palapa and in the midst of clouds of color, kids witnessed firsthand the enormity and beauty of our God.
Enjoy a few recent highlights from Cancún
Back2Back Cancún is celebrating growth in several key areas, including the dedication of the Judy Morand Center of Hope, a facility on the Tres Reyes Community Center campus designed to provide resources to vulnerable families.
A place to grow
The Judy Morand Center of Hope is the cornerstone of the Community Center of Tres Reyes in Cancún. The facility will offer tutoring for children, parenting classes, health and nutrition classes, continuing educational resources including a library, a teaching kitchen and computer lab, reading classes, individual and family counseling, dental care and after-school programs. The goal is to provide vital resources to a developing community. Back2Back’s ultimate hope is that by supporting the community in this practical way, we will strengthen families and see lives transformed.
Last weekend, we dedicated the Judy Morand Center of Hope. Staff, community members, out-of-town guests, and the Morand family and friends gathered to celebrate Judy’s life and dedicate the building named in her honor. Watch the video we showed at the dedication ceremony.
This summer, we offered parenting classes in the Bonfil community, continuing the community outreach programming that began two years ago. Staff offered a high-impact nutrition class. Through collaboration with a local volunteer and social worker, the team developed engaging materials on topics ranging from healthy eating to food preparation. More than 35 moms in the Bonfil and Tres Reyes attended – the group was highly receptive and engaged. Many asked questions about healthy food preparation and healthy eating. In addition, we conducted baseline nutritional assessments for nearly 100 children in several of the communities where Back2Back serves, including Tres Reyes, Cuna Maya and Bonfil.
Other highlights include:
Back2Back serves a fourteen-year-old girl with a traumatic past. This summer, a local Back2Back staff member shared with her about God’s love. One night, conversations turned to the topics of peace and hope. That same night, the girl decided to follow Jesus. “I want that peace and hope you’re talking about,” she told the staff person. She is now growing in her faith with the support of Back2Back staff and volunteers.
- Ben and Emily Riggs arrived in September to join the Cancún staff team.
- Back2Back recently hired a new social worker to help meet the needs of children and families in the communities we serve.
Join us in praying for Cancún
- Back2Back national staff Carlos and Eloisa walked through a very difficult illness with their 20-year-old son Samuel, who was a Back2Back volunteer for the past four years. He was faithful to the ministry and well-loved by the community. In January he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer and in August he passed away. The staff continues to care for his family in many ways. Please join us in praying for Carlos and Eloisa as they grieve their tremendous loss.
- Please pray for new staff Ben and Emily Riggs as they transition to a new country, a new language and new roles with Back2Back.
By Julie Mowery, Back2Back Cancun Co-Director
Back2Back Cancun hosts monthly parenting classes to support vulnerable families in the Bonfil community, one piece of an overarching orphan care prevention initiative. Recently, instructors shared practical concepts about modeling the behavior parents want to see from their children. Parents learned how to demonstrate positive and negative interactions and discussed the impact negative responses can have on their children. They were extremely engaged, asking thoughtful questions about how to apply the principles. It was obvious the parents wanted to learn more, since for many, it was the first time they had participated in a parenting class or received parenting resources. Like many parents, they had only their childhood experiences, both good and bad, to rely on for examples. They were challenged and encouraged by the new information, especially one particular communication principle: parents must show respect in the words they use and how they use them in order to receive respect from their children.
That day, I was reminded of a scriptural principle: words kill, words give life. They’re either poison or fruit – you choose. (Proverbs 18:21) I was ecstatic that the parents in Bonfil had a chance to learn this amazing truth. I also loved seeing words of life being spoken to the children we serve through Back2Back mission teams and staff, encouraging them to try new things, to overcome fear. . . .whispering to them that they matter and they are seen and heard.
Julie Mowery and her husband, Erick, serve as the Co-Directors of Back2Back’s site in Cancun, Mexico. Julie is passionate about family preservation and orphan prevention in Cancun and the surrounding communities. Julie is passionate about education, literacy and the arts. She enjoys creating lesson plans and activities to make learning fun.
By Jenna Schroeder, Back2Back U.S. Haiti Coordinator
Gervens is blind and from the outside looking in he seems like a very vulnerable child living in Bon Repos, Haiti. He joins hands with Peterson, another orphan, who lovingly leads him around the Lighthouse Children’s Home. He eats his breakfast listening to the other children talk about the activities of the day or what visitors might come by.
Although Gervens depends on his friends often, his visual impairment does not stop him from being like other children. He bravely mounts his bike, wheeling around the property. He knows every corner, step and stone to avoid as he circles in the dirt before school, a place he has begun to learn braille and is welcomed by the other students. Whenever I visit Gervens, I notice his sweet spirit and independence.
During a recent visit, as we played Legos, l would hand him a piece I thought he wanted, but he kindly refused and searched for the piece he needed by touching and feeling the crevices and nobs to create his own masterpiece. Other times, I’ve watched him at a beach intent to swim on his own. Lately, he has come alive as he places his fingers on the black and white keys of his piano and lets worship fill the room. Gervens constantly balances his desire to be independent along with the fact that he has a disability, but one thing that Gervens has never been able to do is read the Bible on his own. He has always had to rely on others to hear God’s word.
In July, I visited the Lighthouse Children’s Home, along with a mission team and national staff member, Wadson. We thought we were there to deliver donations but to my surprise a sweet time of connection began between Cindy Hensley, a trip participant, and Gervens. Cindy lovingly listened to him play the piano. As she studied him maneuver his way around stairwells and walls, Cindy saw him through a different lens because she was a special needs teacher.
After we returned home, she ordered a braille Bible and picked up a pack of braille playing cards for him, which were soon delivered. “It was so easy for me to do this. I just want him to be able to read the Bible and play cards with the other kids.” Gervens touched the thick, rough paper, running his finger over the raised dots. He felt his fingers on every bump and valley of the page, and as he put into practice what he had just begun to learn this year, God’s word came to life for him.
“Watching him open up the Bible right away, told me that he was excited. Otherwise, he would’ve said thank you and put it away,” explained Wadson, captain of the Lighthouse Children’s Home. As Gervens soft and scratchy voice read aloud the first few sentences of Luke, it dawned on him that for the first time he could now read the Bible whenever he wanted. This gift was more than another step of independence, but one that reminded Gervens of the loving nature of a God who orchestrated a multitude of events to place His Words on his lap. Gervens is eager to be more engaged in weekly devotions at the home.
Wadson said, “It takes Gervens a little longer to find the Scripture we are talking about, but now I know that if I tell him ahead of time what we will be discussing, he will be able to participate easier in the evening.”
Back2Back strives to care for each child on a holistic level. The ability for Gervens to read a Bible on his own is a huge step in his personal and spiritual growth. Watching God provide for Him through a special needs teacher on a mission trip, grew me spiritually, too. I am constantly shown that everyone has something to offer, and God continues to move on behalf of orphans through His people, in simple tangible ways that mean a lot in the life of a child like Gervens.