Investing Love in Nashville’s Inner City

This blog was written by Athentikos’ own David Lee, who has been a key player in the development and execution of our Summer 2017 IAA camps at Front Porch Ministry. 

As I reflect on the first three domestic I Am Art events and we head into our art show, I am very grateful to be a part of what is happening in Nashville.  Front Porch Ministry has been a blessing to partner with and the work that they are doing cannot be understated.  The community they serve has a population of kids that have great potential.  Thom and Michele are truly investing into these kids with love.  Watching the family operate and the relationships they have with the kids there is a beautiful thing.  Their work is truly a work of compassion.

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The projects that we have put on so far have brought together local artists and inner city kids. This is opening channels of communication from the far reaches of the county all the way to downtown.  The stories I was originally told about the neighborhood we have been working in were somber and detailed a hardened community but as I met more and more people that lived there I saw hope and grace that was being cultivated around the literal front porch of Thom and Michele’s house.

The mural was our first splash into this community and that is exactly what it became.  We played water games and painted our way through the heat of Nashville’s June until we completed a 24 foot long mural!  We cannot thank local artist Ellie Caudill enough for the time and talent that she invested in the lives of these children and in the beauty of this neighborhood.  Our first camp was with a smaller group and consisted of an abstract self portrait workshop led by other local artists, Lauren Dunn and our own Amelia Moore.  We were able to focus deeply into individual friendships and develop long lasting relationships.  I think that these projects have truly made an impact in the children’s lives and we look forward to displaying these works at the end of the summer.  

The conversations that we have around creating these art pieces always explore the theme of how we handle conflict in our lives.  Having these conversations in Guatemala for the last three years presented an interesting juxtaposition to the inner city Nashville neighborhood, however, the result remains the same. Grace presents us with the path to ultimately resolve the conflict in our lives and this journey can be done with creativity and community! We just completed our last Nashville I Am Art camp that ran from July 20-22 and we ask that you pray for our Art Show tomorrow on July 28th. The art show is such a pivotal part of our camps as it brings our young artists a sense of pride in their gifts from God. It is the perfect ending to this beautiful story of I AM ART.

Making Lemonade

I AM ART Lemonade Stand

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]We’re all familiar with the idiom, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. But what do you do when life gives you lemonade?

For the students in Emily Litsey’s high school art class, the answer was to sell the lemonade and donate the proceeds to Athentikos. We are so privileged to be able to share Emily’s story on our blog. Like all nonprofits, Athentikos depends on the generosity of our volunteers and donors. Stories like Emily’s inspire our spirits, and enable us to impact the lives of at-risk youth at our camps. Emily first learned about Athentikos through her involvement with Lemonade International when she took a trip to Guatemala, specifically, to La Limonada. La Limonada is a huge slum in one of Guatemala’s “red zones”. Athentikos’s documentary, Reparando, highlights La Limonada and a few of the people living there and using their creative power to make positive change in their community.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”8987″ img_size=”800×600″ add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Everyone who goes to Guatemala with Athentikos comes back with inspiring stories about their experience. Emily was most inspired by the response Guatemalan kids had to art and the creative process. As an art teacher, she found the reaction to creativity was similar to her U.S students. Emily describes her trip as a reminder that kids are kids no matter where you are, and that art is a universal language. She didn’t want her trip to be a single event in her life that she completed and quit. She plans to return to with Athentikos, but in the meantime, Emily wanted to stay connected with Guatemala, and bring her experiences home to the students in her art class.

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Highlights From Emily’s Trip to Guatemala with Athentikos

[/mk_fancy_title][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/bBUhRzhbwF4″][vc_column_text]Emily originally began having her students do projects like creating personalized pieces of art for kids in the La Limonada school. However, one day, a student suggested raising money to help benefit Athentikos programming and sending kids to camp. In honor of La Limonada, which translates to “lemonade”, Emily’s students began a lemonade stand at the school. It runs for a full week during the spring semester each year and has become such a staple at the school that students anticipate its arrival each year. Emily loves the lemonade stand because she believes her students benefit from having the opportunity to learn how to organize and implement a project/fundraiser as well as being involved with philanthropy. But what is even more powerful, is that it also teaches her students about being aware of other’s needs and the ability of each person to serve others. While Emily has always loved art, she says that now she has a richer understanding of its importance. She’s motivated to help students realize there is more to the world than just the town they live in.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]We praise God for Emily and her students and for all of those who help support Athentikos by donating their time, money, and talents.

If you’d like to help us, you can donate here:

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Pre-Trip Anxiety

Courtney Noya traveling with Athentikos I AM ART

If you are reading this blog, then I hope it means that you’re interested in an I AM ART creative arts mission trip. I’m not saying you must be 100% committed to going in order to read this. In fact, even if there’s only 1% of you right now that thinks it might be a good idea, then I ask that you get comfy, settle in for a minute, and hear me out.

I know going on a mission trip is a lot to think about, so if you didn’t sign up on day 1, that’s okay. I had a lot of protesting going on in my brain when I was first presented with the idea of joining a trip. My protests included:

  • You’ll have to take time off work and school during exams.
  • You can’t afford this, you’re in college.
  • You’re not even really artistic, you just sometimes do crafts, SORTA.

I initially said “maybe” and “we’ll see”, but I knew the answer was going to be “no” because doubt and anxiety chimed in first. Why would I even consider it? But then I did consider it and began to wonder what I should do. I looked for some sort of magical sign from God, like a winning lottery ticket even though I don’t play the lottery. Then I realized that I might be hoping for something a bit too theatrical, so I changed my game plan. After about a week of simply praying for guidance, I realized I was already planning my trip, thinking about how I would get my professors to work with my schedule, how fundraising would work, and what kind of skills I had that might benefit others at camp. God had already led me where He wanted me to be. He was just holding on to the seat of my bike until I realized my feet were on the pedals the entire time and started moving.

And if this were a simple story it would end: “Then, all my fears were gone and I went on my trip with no trace of anxiety and everything was perfect.”

But these things are not perfect and this is not a simple story. Quite often, our stories just don’t work out that simple. The truth is that I was still anxious about a mile long list echoing in my head of everything that might go wrong. But, instead of ruminating on that list, I put my heart in God’s hands and tried to remind myself all of the things I was excited about like:

  • You’re going to be able to travel to the beautiful country of Guatemala.
  • You’re going to be able to meet people who are a lot like you.
  • You’re going to be able to meet people who are a lot different than you.
  • You’re going to be able to see what God had been so excited for you to experience.

These are just a few of the benefits that my doubts and anxieties could never conquer. There are so many more. The I AM ART trip changed my life!

I hope as you read through the blogs on our website, or talk to friends who recommended IAA to you, that you also start feeling excitement and joy for all of the potential experiences you will have on one of our trips. We would love for you to join us! From a practical level, the earlier you register, the lower the initial fee and the cheaper the airfare. However, from a more emotional level, the earlier you register, the sooner you can start to let go of some of the nervousness and doubt and replace it with excitement and passion. We would love to have you. If you want to know more about the trip, I encourage you to explore https://athentikos.com/iamart/ and https://athentikos.com/blog/.

Adventure awaits. You just have to start pedaling the bike.

Full Lives, Full Hearts

The following blog was written by Courtney Smalley. Courtney has been working with our partner organizations to gather interviews from the children about their experiences with I AM ART camp. 

A few weeks ago staff members of our partner organization, Vidas Plenas, asked their students what they learned in the I AM ART camp held there last July. Today, we’d like to share their answers with you! But first, some context—Vidas Plenas, which translates to “full lives” is an organization dedicated to “giving opportunities, through education and integrated care, to the neediest among us, so that they may have full lives.” It serves the people of La Limonada, a community of 60,000 people wedged into a ravine in the middle of Guatemala City. A river of black water flows through the ravine, and families of up to 10 or even more people make their homes in 10’ x 15’ plots of land on the sloping sides of rock and dirt. According to Vidas Plenas’ website, “this community has been forgotten, ignored, and isolated,” and now struggles with gangs, drug trafficking, and sexual, psychological, and physical abuse. And yet, “all it takes is will and love for the inhabitants [of La Limonada] to lead lives of dignity.”

Vidas Plenas helps the people of La Limonada find that will and love through two complementary programs geared toward the children and young people of the community. The first provides academic scholarships so that the kids and teens can get an education—“the best way to combat the cycle of poverty, abuse, and gangs that plague the community.” The second provides a place for kids to learn, play, and grow outside of school hours in special “little schools” or “life academies” run by Vidas Plenas itself. The students of these life academies are fed nutritious meals, get homework help, receive counselling support, take classes in art, music, English, and Bible studies, and are nurtured and cared for in numerous other ways as well. Vidas Plenas truly puts them on the path to leading full lives!

Athentikos has been honored to partner with Vidas Plenas and bring the I AM ART camp to their life academies several times. What’s even better—the kids hearts are truly changing as a result of the camps! These children and teens who are under constant pressure to join a gang, to mistrust or look down on those from the other side of town, and to doubt their own value, have been transformed by the God’s message of love delivered through I AM ART.

Take a look at what the Vidas Plenas staff and students had to say below:

What did you learn?

  • “I learned how to work in a team, how to be free, and how to share with others.”
  • “I learned not to hold onto ugly feelings, and I learned how we can express our feelings through dance.”
  • “I learned how to work in a team and learned that I can’t do anything alone—I always need help.”
  • “I learned that you should always work to come to an agreement, and I learned to be creative.”
  • “I learned that we are art because we are valuable and God loves us.”
  • “I learned that my heart shouldn’t become filled with sin and to always believe in Jesus. I’m not in any fights anymore.”

What does “I am art” mean to you?

  • “It means to paint, express myself, and draw.”
  • “It means to express myself, to paint, and to play, and it means freedom.”
  • “It means being an artist, a drawer, and a singer.”
  • “It means I am something good for God.”
  • “It means I am a creation of God.”
  • “It means God created me because I am one of his works of art.”

What changes do you see in the students?

(These questions were answered by staff members who work with the kids on a daily basis.)

  • “Many times they suffer from abuse or lack of attention at home. The camp helped Oscar* and the other kids feel free and free to be themselves. He is more expressive.”
  • “Ana Gloria learned to express herself better, to share, and to work in a team. A thousand thanks for the time you took to plant these seeds in the kids.”
  • “Edgar is better at working with others and working in groups.”
  • “Daniela participates more and communicates better. For the kids, the camp was an opportunity to express themselves in a way that doesn’t make them feel vulnerable.”

Thank you for making these stories possible. Your support is helping to change the lives of the neediest among us, to make them full.

*Names have been changed to protect the children’s privacy.

Impact – Oasis 2016

Corbey Dukes, Director of Oasis

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Athentikos, I AM ART processes pain through creative arts, and resolves conflict through God’s greater story of redemption.

We’re grateful to partner with organizations like Kids Alive’s Oasis in Guatemala, a ministry that seeks healing and restoration for girls who have been rescued from abuse. Oasis Director, Corbey Dukes shares his perspective about the impact of I AM ART in the video above. Special thanks to Emily Tuttle for the video footage & interviews.[/vc_column_text][vc_text_separator title=”Corbey’s Interview”][vc_column_text]

One of the measures I can use for how effective the I AM ART Camp is, is the reaction of the girls. And, the girls love it! The girls are excited about it, and I can guarantee that I’ll have 20 girls ask me, “When are they coming back?”

People want to build things – build a new house, or an office complex. And that’s great. But I’ll say, the most important thing that can be built is a new heart. And programs like I AM ART, programs that Athentikos puts together to come in and make an investment in the child and in the staff … that’s heart building. It may be harder to measure than how many hundreds of pounds of concrete that we pour. But, the impact is huge! Because often, something like this is the first time they (the girls) have done something beautiful in their lives.

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They came from very dark, ugly places, and to be able to generate something beautiful with color, with harmony, with music, with self expression … It’s a way for them to reclaim their humanity. It’s a huge boost to their identity of who they are in Jesus, the power they have over their voice and their body. Their body is reclaimed. It’s theirs. It’s clean. It’s not stained by what others did to them. And, they can start to realize they’re chosen for something different than their past.

I’m running a home and I’ve got responsibility for a hundred kids, and for me, this is an investment that I love. I love Athentikos. It’s a ministry worth your prayers and your encouragement – worth promoting for people in your church or community to be a part of an Athentikos team. Man, it’s worth it. And it’s certainly worthy of your financial support.

-Corbey Dukes
Director of Oasis

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Follow the Light

About 3 months ago, I wrote a blog for Athentikos reflecting on my I AM ART trip to Oasis in November of 2016. I talked about the amazing time I had and how difficult it was to come back to the United States and have to say good-bye to all of the wonderful people I had met. However, as time passed and I readjusted, a lot of those painful feelings started to fade and I was left with all of the positive emotions I had associated with the trip— Love, Joy, Peace, Patience… All the fruits of the spirit and then some. I still miss Guatemala and everyone I met, but the passion I have is so overwhelming that it’s much easier to remember the most beautiful things about my experiences.

This was not the case on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.

On March 8th, I had a heavy heart for Guatemala. Many of you have probably heard about the fire at one of the orphanages in Guatemala, if you haven’t heard about it yet you can read the full story here. This wasn’t one of the homes that Athentikos works with on their I AM ART trips, but the sting of loss is there all the same. This is a particularly difficult story because we know this home was supposed to be safe. The children living there should’ve been protected and they were failed. It is natural to look at this moment with a heavy heart and be upset or angry or saddened or heartbroken and I believe that we should embrace those emotions in all of their reality just as much as we embrace love and joy. As my friend likes to say, “Sometimes you’ve got to just feel your feelings.”

I sent a number of text messages out to my friends upon hearing about the tragedy of the orphanage in Guatemala and immediately received messages like these in return:

“Sending so much love and prayers to Guatemala”

“I hope they get the love and healing they need and deserve”

“They’ll all be in my prayers”

“Let us know if there’s something we can do to help”

 

After those messages, I did some reading and found that John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

I still, in spite of tragedy and loss, believe this to be true. The darkness is painful and scary at times, but it will not overcome the light. Athentikos is a light, our partner organizations are a light, the kids we help are beautiful lights, and all of you who put your hearts and souls into Athentikos are lights as well. And eventually, like after my trip, the joy and love will still be there long after the darkness fades away. The passion is part of our hearts. Thank you for investing your spirit into Athentikos and Guatemala. We tell stories that involve an element of conflict and every lesson we teach tells us that after the conflict is a time of healing and restoration. The story does not end here… we just need to follow the light.

Meeting Maribel

This week we’ve got a story from someone very special: Maribel*, a beautiful young woman at Oasis Home for Girls.

Maribel and the other girls at Oasis were sent there by the Guatemalan court system after suffering sexual or physical abuse in their homes, or being forced into child labor. Most of the girls arrive at Oasis significantly behind in school or having never attended school, and each one of them carries deep scars from exploitation. Oasis works to be exactly that—a place of restoration and healing—for both the girls and their families. At Oasis the girls attend school, have access to therapy, and are introduced to the transforming love of Jesus.

We were honored to partner with Oasis and make I AM ART camps part of the healing journey for Maribel and her friends. And now we honored to share Maribel’s story with all of you! Your support is an integral part of the fabric God used to weave this story.

Oasis staff member Jenny says that Maribel is well-liked by the other girls at Oasis, but she struggles with self-confidence. “Maribel keeps somewhat to herself but has been slowly opening up to others,” says Jenny. When she drops her defenses, she reveals a kind, responsible girl who loves to have fun—a girl everyone would love to know better if given the chance.

In November’s I AM ART camp Maribel was placed in the self-portrait class with artist Payton. She began the week covering a canvas with every color and design her heart desired. Then, guided by Payton, she traced her own silhouette over top and began painting in the details of her face.

On Wednesday, Maribel and the other girls were instructed to cover part of their self-portraits with tape and paint the entire canvas black. “I felt sick,” says Maribel. “I felt like all of our hard work was being thrown out.” But then the class talked about conflict, and how the piece related to their own lives: “It reminded me that our hearts are full of sin, like the black paint, but it is God who cleans our hearts.”

Though this isn’t Maribel’s work, it showcases a final product of the self-portrait workshop she participated in.

The next morning, Maribel and her classmates returned to their blackened pieces. Each girl carefully pulled back the strips of tape to reveal her own face, shining like a gem in the midst of the black. “I like how it turned out,” Maribel says. “I never imagined I would be able to create something like this.”

“Now Maribel realizes that she can accomplish things even if at first they look hard,” says Jenny. Her self-confidence has grown, and that girl everyone wanted to know better is making more and more appearances.

“I learned that no matter what, God always forgives and cleans us,” says Maribel. “He cares for us and protects us. I AM ART means that I am God’s art. No one is an accident. We are God’s perfect creations, and everything we do is art.”

*Maribel’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

 

Something Changed Forever

 

The following blog was written by one of Athentikos’s volunteers and workshop leaders, Kati Korosuo. 

Going to Guatemala had been hunting me for about 13 years, until last summer (2016) I finally made it there. I spent five weeks in the country teaching Dances to a Beat (DTB), a dance technique I’ve developed myself, to a vast variety of different groups: from teenagers in an elite dance school, to dancers in a wheelchair dance company, to kids in the ghetto of La Limonada. DTB is a technique based on improvisation, repetition and rhythm. It deals a lot with seeing oneself as part of a bigger, meaningful picture and understanding one’s crucial importance there. DTB is a technique where the aim is to not just to accept one’s own movements, history, and personality, but to appreciate and enjoy them. It ultimately is a technique to celebrate the uniqueness in each of us!

 

I was very happy to be able to share DTB at Athentikos’s I AM ART camp with Vidas Plenas in La Limonada. Athentikos’ values about authenticity and transparency resonated strongly in me, and I had a good feeling about this collaboration. In La Limonada the extreme poverty, criminality and violence become a concrete reality that was, literally and metaphorically, thousands of miles away from my everyday life in Finland. Teaching the kids there had an impact on me, that is difficult to put in words. It changed something in my heart forever.

After my experience that summer, the culture shock returning back to Finland hit really bad. It was frustrating and difficult to become interested in all those meaningless things that we, in a western welfare state, have the luxury to become interested in and spend our lives on. And this shock didn’t ease out until I had decided to go back to Guatemala.

I wanted to continue working with Athentikos, and ended up spending two months in the country planning and executing an Artist in Residence pilot program that Athentikos plans to launch in 2018. This residency included two IAA camps and in-between working with Athentikos’s established partner organizations plus creating new connections with the local art scene there. I realized that coming back to Guate to continue the work I had started there was like a reconciliation: an action that had to be followed after that something that had started to stir in my heart.

My third I AM ART camp in Guatemala was held at Oasis, a home for sexually abused girls, where I had visited twice before. The camp didn’t start off so well, and new girls kept coming into my workshop in the middle of the week. They were super shy and reluctant teenagers, who seemed to resist everything I suggested. I quietly acknowledged that this week wouldn’t be so great now, however, I still wanted to do my best. And on the third day things changed. The girls started to open up and they would end up telling me things I would have never imagined. They shared with the group and they shared with me privately. They wrote letters. They told me how important this week was for them and how they had learned so much about dance and self-worth, how this group was like a family to them and how they wished this week would never end. The last days there entailed more hugs and tears than many months would.

Photo by Amelia J. Moore

Spending longer time in the country gave me the opportunity to understand the Guatemalan culture better, the both wonderful and challenging sides of it, as well as to connect on a deeper level with the locals. There was time to form real friendships and to see the kids in different moods, having good days, having struggles, having graduations. Returning back to places, seeing the kids again outside the camp setting also made me to understand that I’m just a visitor in their lives. I will be gone, and they will be just fine. However, after my last IAA Camp at Oasis, this perspective was challenged once more as I realized that the experiences we had and lessons we taught will stay with them forever.

One night at the camp the director of Oasis told our team some statistics and facts about the sexual violence in Guatemala and generally about some of the girls’ cases. I had not prepared for such hard facts and intense stories. This reality was very difficult to take in. In the beginning I had surely wondered about what kind of a story each girl there had (especially when some of them went to court and hearings during the week), but later, every time a story would get a face and a name, I crashed. I then felt that it was better for me to work with these kids without knowing all the details of their pasts. When I taught them, I wanted to concentrate on the things we were doing together and the qualities that make all of them incredible kids, not their heart-breaking pasts. 

All these three art camps by Athentikos have been different yet equally meaningful for me. The highlight of this last camp was the process with the girls. Again, like after each of these camps, I feel that I have been operating with something that is like the most important thing on Earth. And that my heart is exposed and broken in a way that it hasn’t before. It feels absurd that I wouldn’t return here anymore.

Photo by Amelia J. Moore

Celebrations, Diarrhea, Prison, and Awe

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In January 2008, our lives were changed. We celebrated New Years in Guatemala with our family, and then received our son Elliot on Amelia’s birthday (Jan 2). It was awe-inspiring to celebrate this trilogy of milestones with our family in such an incredibly beautiful place!

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Fast forward a week … Our family returned home to the US. Amelia and I were waiting for Elliot’s immigration papers in Guatemala, not knowing exactly how long it would be until we could come home as a family of four. Suddenly, we felt extremely ill-equipped to handle reality. I’ll never forget … We were sequestered in a hotel with our two year old, Micah and 8 month old Elliot, who was just getting to know us. I’m pretty sure he didn’t like us at the time. But who could blame him? His whole life was turned upside down. Our lives were turned upside down. And the kicker … we all started getting sick. I don’t mean a little cough. I mean epic proportions … diarrhea. Yep! And, what wasn’t exploding out our downstairs, was rocketing from our upstairs! Imagine eating breakfast in a hotel, surrounded by businessmen in fancy suits … and here we were, the circus sideshow, but not the kind with funny clowns. We were more like the freaks. And … As if it couldn’t get more awkward, the hotel kicked us out due to security concerns because international diplomats were arriving for the Guatemalan Presidential Inauguration. Perhaps they couldn’t risk of an international epidemic of the trots???

Picture us walking down the street to another hotel, with all our baggage and two kids in tow, covered in poo and vomit like unfortunate vagabonds in search of shelter, comfort, and healing. Some might call it uncomfortable. In the middle of it all, it felt quite … horrific. We weren’t sleeping, couldn’t keep food down, and were becoming quite delirious. AND … There was no clear end in sight, because we didn’t know exactly when we would get our embassy appointment. In that moment, it felt like an eternity of torment. Thankfully, I had enough sense to press record on the video camera.

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You might ask why I would want to record such a seemingly bad time in our lives. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it then, but now I know. I wanted perspective. I wanted to look at that moment of time through a different lens – a different chapter of my life. 

Looking back now … It wasn’t really that bad. And, no matter how horrific it might have seemed at the time, it was all worth it. All of it was worth it because it brought us our son, whom we love dearly. I guess it was like our own version of the delivery room (I don’t really know for sure, cause I’ve never experienced it, but I can imagine) … anticipation … discomfort growing into pain … confusion … screaming … body fluids … delirium … and not knowing when any of it was truly going to end. But, we kept breathing, and pushing, and breathing … running for hot, wet towels …  and then, in the right time, our tears were turned to joy. Our personal conflict was resolved. We got the paperwork we needed, and we flew home a family of four, greeted at the airport by people we adored! It was awe-inspiring! All of it was awe-inspiring, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, because it’s part of our story. It shaped who we are today.

People say hindsight is 20-20. I don’t know if we ever see with perfect vision, but we can certainly try to connect dots and see patterns as we reflect back on our life’s events. I didn’t know it at the time, but two days after I recorded this video, a missionary friend invited me to meet some of his friends. His friends just happened to be gang members in a Guatemalan prison. Hidden behind their frightening tattooed faces were stories of children who were simply trying to survive in an environment with very few options. When I left the prison, I asked the guard to stamp my passport, so I could never forget that I was there.

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Later that night I returned to my hotel (which used to feel like a prison, but not so much anymore). I couldn’t erase the contrast of the gang members – those young lives “left behind”, and my son – the precious baby I held in my arms and rocked to sleep. My heart was stirred to respond. All of our stories collided into a new story, that ultimately birthed our nonprofit, Athentikos.

I watch this video every year as a reminder of how blessed we are as a family. I still tear up when I watch it, but it also makes me smile. In January 2008, our lives were changed … for the better.

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