Ringing Out of Control

I consider myself a strategic thinker. I like intentionality. On a practical level, that means I put a lot of thought into something before I pursue it. I count costs, develop a plan of attack, and then once there is a clear target … I dive in and invest my entire being into whatever it is I am pursuing. I don’t enjoy investing 50%. I am just not wired that way. There are probably many reasons for this characteristic in my life – not the least of which is my desire for control.

I am a story teller (communicator) by trade. So on one level, I want to have control over a message. I want to ensure that I tell stories with clarity and purpose –  simple stories with a rich depth. I prefer stories that connect with your heart immediately, but also reveal something new each time they are experienced. ‘Reparando’ is such a story.

Our goal was simple on paper: inspire viewers to respond. We set out to accomplish this goal using the metaphor of the repaired doll in the over-arching storyline. We wrestled through pre-production for over a year, weaving this metaphor through the story. Everything was intentional – from the “Michelangelo-esque” feel of the hand reaching down to pick up the doll in the title sequence, to the money exchanged as a ransom for doll parts, to the baptismal washing of the doll, to the white dress … I could go on and on … all of these things were intentionally included to reinforce the story of redemption.

During the editing process, I came across a statement by Shorty that inspired me as I scored music for the film. Shorty says “como campanas en mi meante” or in English, “like ringing bells in my mind” when he remembered the message of God’s love in his life. I loved this concept of ringing bells and employed them in the musical score from the very beginning of the film. Watch the film and listen carefully for bells. You will first hear them in the title sequence as the hand reaches down. Then, you’ll hear bells over and over again throughout the story. This was intentional bell ringing. I wanted to communicate that “God loved Shorty and was present from the beginning.”

OK, now fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the final event of our spring screening tour. Oddly, I listened to something in ‘Reparando’ for the first time. I say listened, because I had heard it before, but not connected the dots.

If you own the DVD, fast forward to the final scene of the movie in the market and listen carefully. As the scene builds and eventually plays out, you will hear the sound of a bell ringing out of control. When I say it is ringing out of control, I mean it. Someone is ringing the heck out of a bell and we had no control over it. It was just the natural sound of the market and a vendor was ringing a bell to gain attention. Little did they (or I) know how profound their bell ringing would become. If you listen for the bell, it is clearly present in this scene. But it sat there unnoticed by me for almost two years as I focused on my own intentionality.

I don’t want to over spiritualize it. But these bells reminded me that no matter how much intentionality I put into something, I am not in control. This lesson could not have come at a more profound time. Case in point … immediately after returning home from the Michigan screening / bell epiphany, I learned that I am loosing my day job – the job that actually pays my bills. None of my intentionality or planning mattered at that point. I’m simply not in control.

To be honest, my heart is walking a tightrope between mourning and dancing. I am a critical thinker and a processor. It isn’t just loosing my job. It’s deeper than simply finding a way to replace my income. There is a certain sting that hurts your soul when you are told that your purpose and passion are not valuable – at least when you are wired like me. It cuts deep. However, I have learned a couple things through Shorty & Tita in the film ‘Reparando’ :

1. God was, is, and will be in control of Shorty and Tita’s life. And the same holds true for mine.

2. Because God is in control, I don’t need to be.

I cling to this truth as I walk forward in faith, hoping to pursue Athentikos full time. That is my dream and perhaps my calling. Only time will tell. But even if for some reason I cannot pursue this dream, I will joyfully dance to the sound of bells that continue ringing out of control.

A Buzzing Mosquito

When you lose your job it stings. It takes the wind out of you. The security that you once leaned upon is suddenly gone and you struggle to find a new sense of security. When your wife loses her job within a month of you losing your job, it sort of makes you question security in general. Today, chaos reared it’s ugly head to challenge our faith. It almost felt like a plot to a movie – unreal.

I lost my job a month ago. Although it stung my pride, I wasn’t extremely concerned. My wife had a solid job and her income could hold us over until we figured out how to move forward. That changed today when my wife lost her job too. Maybe I’m a conspiracy theorist, but when my wife and I both lose our jobs within a month – I have to ask what the heck is going on. I mean, seriously … both of us? I have to be honest. I didn’t see this coming.

We recently wrapped up a screening tour of our first film, ‘Reparando’ – a feature-length documentary that we produced after adopting our sons from Guatemala. We spent two and a half years working on the film on top of our day jobs because we couldn’t go on with ordinary life after seeing the what we saw in the country where our sons were born. We wanted to raise awareness for the situation in Guatemala and help direct resources towards a solution that would make a difference. I believe we were successful in our goal. In less that a year after releasing the film, it has inspired incredible response that is impacting the situation in Guatemala.

While we were in Guatemala last November to premiere ‘Reparando’, our hearts were again moved by another story. We spent time with kids who ran away from home and live on the street. These children live in a prison without walls. They have very little chance of lifting themselves out of a life of destitution. I came home to the US with a desire to share their story so we could help bring hope to the situation.

We’ve spent the last six months researching and planning a new film to tell their story. It’s been a crazy six months. In that six months, the hero of the story drowned. I lost my job. And now, Amelia lost her job. At some point, I have to ask the question, “Is this random, or is something more profound happening?” We were able to subsidize the production of ‘Reparando’ with our salaries from our day jobs. We never put a penny in our pockets from the film because we didn’t have to. But now, that has changed. We are forced into a new paradigm.

As difficult as our situation seems right now, I am reminded of these street youth and their lack of opportunity. I might lose my house and have to move, but I have options. I can get another job – somewhere. I can move in with family if I have to. Ultimately, I am not without hope. But, the street kids in Guatemala have nothing. Ironically, that is what is heavy on my heart today. Suddenly, I have an inkling of understanding what life is like for them … the fear of uncertainty … living without security of what I once considered secure. But my reality is just a small glimpse into their life. They don’t have the options I am blessed with.

Call me stubborn, but now I want to tell their story more than ever. I want to produce this documentary and partner with organizations on the ground in Guatemala to help these street kids leverage themselves out of their situations. We have an incredible story to tell – a story that will expose a problem, illuminate a solution and inspire response. All we need now are the financial resources to produce it.

I want to believe that the irony of Amelia and me losing our jobs at the same time is God providing a way to swoop in and Glorify Himself by providing for us when we have nothing else to lean on. At some level, it is more than a belief – it is an expectation. Amelia and I are like the Israelites walking into the water expecting God to part it. We’ll keep walking with that faith.

A great friend shared this verse with me tonight. It is the summary of my reality:

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

In the midst of my personal uncertainty – my personal weakness, I am certain of God’s providence. My current situation is like a mosquito buzzing around my head, trying to distract me from experiencing a beautiful sunset. With God’s help, I’ll swat that bug and continue soaking in the beauty so I can share it with someone else.

My Response: Zack in Sacramento

My name is Zack Slort. I am from Sacramento, California and I am 20 years old. I live at with my family and work at a movie theater. When I heard about Reparando, I was very excited to see it. I had been on a missions trip to Guatemala before and I was excited to hear that a film had been made about it. God changed me in Guatemala, even though I was only there for 12 days. He taught me so much about humility, and how blessed I am to live in America. The most impactful part of the trip was going to La Limonada. It totally rocked my world. Before going there, I didn’t truly know what it meant to be impoverished. I also got to meet Tita, which, as anyone who’s ever met her will tell you, was an amazing blessing for me. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone else who is closer to Jesus’ heart than Tita.  Being around her fills you with joy and love. It is powerful to see someone who is so filled with the Holy Spirit.

The first time I saw Reparando, God rocked my world again. The film spoke to me in so many different ways and God showed me so much through it. When it was over, I didn’t know what to do. I was with a  group of people, and we were supposed to discuss the film, but I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t say or do anything. I just sat there and thought about everything I had just seen. After I had more time to process everything in the film, God used it as one of many signs in my life that He wants me in missions work. I’m still figuring out what that means and how that will take shape in my life, but I am pursuing different avenues where I can serve Him in a missions setting.  The idea that the film presents, of God repairing us, is such an amazingly powerful concept. It is so powerful because it truly meets every person right where they are. It somehow manages to ignore all of the surface level issues of each person and pierce straight to the heart of each individual who watches it. If you are at all considering watching this film, stop considering it, and do it! I promise that, if you allow Him to, God will move in your heart when you watch this film.

My Response: Suler in Philidelphia

My name is Suler Acosta. I’m a pastor in Philly and went to see Reparando at the Trocadero on March 15. It was an awesome experience. Having been in Guatemala and having met many of the main characters in the documentary, I was impacted again by the heart and soul of Tita and Shorty. The film does not dilute nor distort the reality of their passion for these people. What captivates me about this film is the missional implications watching this film has for my church, for your church. You cannot watch this film and say, “How nice that this is happening in Guatemala. I’m so proud of them.” You can’t sit back, enjoy this film, and then go home thinking all is well in your city and community. This film brings to the foreground the tragedy and the beauty that is so often overlooked by most Guatemalans. This is an untold story in Guatemala. The producers of the film have done what Moses did in Exodus 1. They have given names to the unsung heroes—women and men who obeyed and followed God into the heart places to find His heart—and have relegated to a footnote the names of those this world deems powerful.

A film like this forces me and my church to ask, “Are we not responsible to do what Athentikos has done? We are called to give voice to those in the margins of our community; to honor and bless the marginalized in our neighborhoods; to run with eager expectations and await the revelation of the glory of the children of God in broken houses, questionable lives, and back-alleys filled with darkness. For from there, God will cry out as a helpless babe. When we look for the Savior in the garages of our city and not in the Hiltons, when we look for where grace is overflowing in this world, we must follow the lead of this film—we must ask, “Where are the basureros, the Limonadas in my community? Who are those I have ignored in my neighborhood?” As the narrator says, “We must go into the world asking beautiful questions and respond with our lives.” To return to our communities of faith resolved to follow that conviction is the greatest compliment we can give to this film. I hope and pray we in Philly would do just that.  I pray that we will continue to pursue ways by which we can give voice to the undocumented victim of human trafficking in our city. That we will work hard in providing a voice for those who live in unsanitary, unsafe properties of absentee landlords. That we will be a church that will raise up and, rather than punish and yell at our teen boys, will come alongside and mentor our fatherless young men. It is my prayer that we will be active in providing outlets of opportunity for those who feel locked-in into the neighborhoods that have been red-lined. For these and other creative, Holy-Spirit filled ideas, we pray, “Lord, come quickly to our help.” This is our prayer.

 

Cables, Stories, Friends & Hope

By: Hubert Bendfeldt
Guatemala City, Guatemala

Some of the “A” Team: Jonathan, Major, Darlene, Hubert, Scott, Matt, Cesar, Katie, Tyler, Tina & Amelia

It’s hard for me to write a post about a trip that meant so much for me. As a Guatemalan, it was a privilege to be part of the Athentikos team. I didn’t get to hang out that much other than at the Guatemala “Reparando” Premiere screenings due to the fact that most of my participation was at the shows.  I was responsible for setting up the audio and visual components of the event. So most of my memories start several hours before the show with the computers and cables. I remember the long days with Matt Eldredge (from the US Athentikos Team) at the Mall and all of the other stuff that made us sweat while we set up! It was interesting to see the empty venues for hours before tons of people would come and fill the empty chairs with faces full of excitement and expectation. During the actual event, I sat in the projection room and would try to not to move to make sure that no cable would be touched nor unplugged. I was so nervous!

Photos of the “Reparando” screenings in Guatemla City; (photo above) Liz, Scott and Joel sharing after the film.

But among all of those things, (all the work, logistics, walkie-talkies, black shirts, cables, lights, DVDs, etc.) I found moments during the projection of the film to stop and just watch at people’s faces. During different moments of the movie, I could see how God was working in their hearts, how people’s eyes were being opened, and tears being shed. I enjoyed watching the different shades of color reflecting on people faces and the sound filling the room with words in Spanish and English. I would sometimes pray, sometimes sigh, sometimes just stand there and watch.

For me, all of this was just divine moments in which I could see God working. The film is transforming lives and is calling people to respond. After the showings people eagerly went to the tables to buy DVD’s and t-shirts or sign up to “respond”.  Over 1,300 people viewed the film just in 5 showings during the Premiere Week in Antigua and Guatemala City! We had such an amazing response, that we added a FIFTH show which filled up in less than 24 hours! The movement that all of this is creating so far is beautiful.

After the show when everyone was gone, I would find Jonathan {Porta} and give him a huge hug. I just hope and pray that all of this is just a bit of what God wants to do in Guatemala. I think the desire for everyone that participated in making of the film and the events is HOPE. And this film is the start not the end towards that for my country. My prayer is that this movie would continue to stir something within Guatemalan’s people hearts.

Hubert working with Jonathan about pre-show logistics… the hugs came later…

Now it’s time to dance (with Major)

A little team futbol.

Jonathan, Scott and Hubert at the airport

Most of my stories are about the showings and what happened behind scenes, about the time we would share together as a team, about the conversations that I had with people, about individuals, about the brothers and sisters that I encountered during that time. No one can deny that those 2 weeks were intense, we had fun, we made new friends, we shared stories, our hearts were transformed, and we became family.

This trip for me is hope, good news, new friends, a reminder of the last, the least and the lost, a reminder of my responsibility towards them, new ideas, new vision for a lot of Guatemalans; this trip means more than what I can explain on paper or video. This trip was beautiful, this trip was laughter, this trip was sharing, this trip was learning, this trip was friendship, this trip, was part of our lives…

And for many of us, this trip, is just the beginning.

Waking Dream

by Scott Moore
NASHVILLE, TN

Have you ever had a dream in which people from various places and times of your life are woven together into a magical story that makes sense to the subconscious but seems impossible when you wake? I have lived this waking dream.

This is my seventh trip to Guatemala. On each trip, I have returned home with countless stories of beauty and need, wealth and poverty, sorrow and joy, brokenness and restoration. I am blessed to be able to continue relationships with people who I met on our first trip to Guatemala back in 2005. These people are like family to me now. I am also blessed to have been able to come to know many people like Shorty and Tita that God is using to restore the broken here in Guatemala. I have had the honor of hearing and sharing their stories. The other day, several stories crossed paths in a way that only an omniscient author could have penned.

We were near the dump looking for Maria – the Doll Lady. She was not home, so we drove around the corner to meet with a family that needed a wheelchair for their son. We knocked on a few doors asking neighbors for the specific address. When we finally found the home and went inside, I noticed a plaque on the wall that said “… build by the Potters House”. I was thrilled to see a family near the dump thriving in a home built by this organization that is an integral part of ‘Reparando’. As Joel discussed the situation with the mother, I realized that both the wheelchair which was in need of repair, and the new wheelchair, which would be coming to this precious family were given by none other than Dick Rutgers – a man who is also a part of the ‘Reparando’ project. Dick lives in Chimaltegango, a long ways away from this quaint home near the dump in Guatemala City. For a moment, I felt like I was in a surreal dream with characters of my life coming together in a way only the subconscious could imagine. But then Joel explained that he heard of the need and connected these two stories together in order to bring restoration and hope to a family in need. I was struck in awe by the purposeful and yet selfless networking that orchestrated the union of characters in this beautiful story of redemption.

As we drove back around the corner and up the street to leave the neighborhood, I noticed Maria – the Doll lady’s grandson walking across the street. We stopped him to try to locate Maria. He took us to her and we were able to personally thank her for the blessing of the metaphor of redemption that her life’s work brings the story of ‘Reparando’. I cannot explain the joy that we all felt except to say we all had the same sparkle in our eyes. We all knew our own stories have been authored by a God who designed each of us for a purpose – a purpose that is greater when woven together into a collaborative narrative as trophies of God’s Grace.

I will no longer be surprised when characters and stories in my life cross paths. In fact, I have come to expect it. I look forward to life’s waking dream that makes no sense to my conscious mind but has a purpose much greater than I will ever know.

Happy Thanksgiving!