Back2Back Ministries is an international Christian non-profit organization that is dedicated to being a voice for orphans. We exist to love and care for orphans and impoverished children, by meeting their physical, spiritual, educational, social and emotional needs that they might overcome their life circumstances and break free from the cycle of generational poverty.
The girls from FloreSer Children’s Home stood on the shore line, feet firmly planted in the sand. They shaded their eyes from the morning sun and gripped their boards. Each surfboard has become a trusted friend, a unique teacher over the last few years. Many of the girls have been taking surf lessons with children’s home captain, Grant Keys, for a while now. While it may seem like just an extracurricular activity, it’s been a source of many life lessons.
“There has been a significant shift each girl’s confidence,” shared Grant Keys. “They’re learning more about who they are on the water, and it’s changed the way they view themselves and those around them.” As the girls at Floreser meet challenges head on, they’ve learned some valuable life lessons . . .
There are things we can control, and things we cannot. Their experiences have said to them, again and again, “You are not in control and powerless to what will happen to you.” Regular time in the water has taught them otherwise. They may not always stay on top of the board, but each girl gains strength trying. Getting back up when they fall develops resiliency.
Everyone, no matter their age, can learn from someone with more experience.The girls realize having a coach who has been surfing longer will help them improve. Their surf instructor is more like a teacher, encouraging, equipping, and challenging each of the girls to push forward. Everyone needs a champion.
Difficult is worth it.New skills require time, patience, and perseverance. It is easier to walk away when we don’t master something with ease, but the pay off is in the work of rising, time and again. The girls at FloreSer are learning, each time they’re on their surfboards, the rewards of not giving up because something doesn’t come easy.
Showing up for each other is pivotal to success.The girls always attend surfing lessons as a group. Together, they are learning how to speak life into each other, reminding one another not to give up. Even if we don’t always see eye to eye, showing up for one another can alter the story.
Confidence is not a result of what’s happened before, it’s a testament to the work of now.Trauma can often stain the way we view ourselves. It can create insecurity and doubt when challenges are presented. As the teens learn a new skill, and improve, they gain confidence in more than surfing. Previous hurts are still a part of their story, but leaning forward, they move into their future, not held down by their past.
Surfing for the teens of Floreser is a gateway to a lifetime of new experiences. The prayer is they remember how daunting step one once was, and how good it felt to conquer fear. That memory will carry them into classrooms and first jobs, as challenges are presented to them over and again. They know to look for a team to always surround them and a coach to guide their learning. There is nothing God can’t do through someone willing to step forward, even with shaky legs, and face the coming wave.
The first time I heard about a simulation training called Life in Limbo, I’ll admit I wondered why our staff team was spending two hours out of a day on “experiential role play.” The goal was to help us experience what it’s like to be a child separated from their biological family. I’d spent the past ten years loving, serving, and even living with kids from hard places. I was convinced I knew what it was like in their shoes.
“I was wrong.”
My role was of a 10-year old child. I was introduced to my “biological family” and then promptly blindfolded. My “mom” whispered in my ear, “I can’t protect you.” A loud knock sounded on the door, voices shouted as I was pushed from my home. When the chaos stopped, we were told to sit on our hands. This calm after the storm, silence and powerlessness, suddenly felt more terrifying than the chaos or shouting before. As I adjusted to my “first night” in the children’s home, in a room of strange people and noises, I considered the times I’d tucked children under my own care, in for the night. How had they managed to hold themselves together with such resiliency and bravery?
My new caregiver had great intentions, but there were 10 of us. I needed food, clothes, school supplies, to be seen and understood, to have my questions of what just happened answered. Our needs were shared by passing him small, plastic balls, and if those needs were met, he passed the ball back. He tried, but his arms were full, his attention divided by 10, every last child doing their best to garner his focus. The room erupted in chaos, plastic balls flew wildly, and screaming and bad behavior took over. I kept silent. It seemed safer to avoid the line of fire, rather than be disappointed yet again. How many times have I seen this scenario play out before my eyes? How many caregivers have felt their arms were overflowing, the burden too great to bear alone?
Next, the “biological parents” played a game. They had watched their children be removed from their homes and cared for by strangers. Now was their chance to rebuild a home, reuniting their family.
The social worker read the long list of requirements – must have four walls, a roof, a floor, be structurally sound, and safe. Parents were given a small stack of playing cards with which to build a home. The children cheered to the side, willing victory, a safe place, a return home.
Suddenly the table moved, the earth shook beneath them, houses crumbled. Over and over, they tried and failed, stuck in a system knocking the foundation from beneath them. My heart broke for parents who desperately wanted their children back, but were caught in generational patterns and their own hurt. How many parents felt caught in this never-ending cycle? What must it have felt like to walk with the grief and frustration of being separated from one’s child?
It was a two hour simulation, and the smallest taste of what vulnerable children go through, but I was unable to shake the thoughts tumbling through my mind as it ended.
Children are so unbelievably brave. The caregivers so overwhelmed, literally juggling the needs of multiple children in their care. Biological parents aren’t the villains of the story, they’re processing their own trauma. They are stuck in systems that don’t work, endless cycles of guilt and shame, and they need a way out.
The entire Monterrey staff team walked away different that day. Genuine change begins with a shift in perspective. One small shift can change an entire trajectory. For two hours, we had the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes. Our hearts and minds were changed because of it.
As a ministry, we value learning. We seek to enrich and deepen our own understanding of the hard places the children we serve come from. We also value sharing. Following this role play experience, nine members of the Monterrey team were trained to facilitate the Life in Limbo experience.
To date, over 500 people, ranging from social workers and psychologists to caregivers and judges, have participated in Life in Limbo in Monterrey. Each of them left with their perspective shifted and their hearts and minds altered. Can you imagine the changed trajectories because of it? Can you see the faces of the children and families being cared for, talked to, loved on, differently? We are excited and expectant to see what God will do next.
Field Story by Aaron Meeks, Back2Back Staff in Haiti
I was at Rescue of God Children’s Home when we first met. He shied away from the group of children, falling to the back, so I went to him. I knelt down, extended my hand, and looked in his big, brown eyes.
“What is your name?”
“Zidor.” He answered quickly, then walked away.
I returned to the home a week later, and watched him move again to the back of the crowd. I yelled his name, “ZIDOR!” A bright, beautiful smile lit his face. His face reflected the truth he heard in my voice – he was remembered. We all want to be seen, and in the moment when Zidor knew he was seen, it changed his very countenance.
Our countenance also reflects whether we are remember or forget God’s eyes are always on us. He will never forget He once made us, and always stands ready to call us by our name.
Zidor is one of the smaller children at Rescue of God Children’s Home. Perhaps, in his smallness, he has felt unseen. I’ve also dealt with similar feelings, thinking God will, or already has at some point, forgotten me. Those are dark moments, full of pain, and God longs to deliver us from that pain. God uses Scripture to remind us we can never be forgotten. I think of David crying out in Psalm 102, “Lord hear my prayer!”
I held this cry close during a two-month span when I lost a family member and a friendship ended, while simultaneously experiencing road blocks to what I thought was God’s call. Where are you? I wondered.
He heard those prayers, seeing my hurt, and came to my aid. It didn’t unfold how I expected, but He had my attention. I wanted the pain and suffering to be removed. Instead, what I received was the listening ear of my Father. A much richer reward. He hears our every cry.
Today, Zidor is in a home where his needs are being met. It’s my privilege to be an extension of God’s promise to not forget him.
In this life we go through many trials: financial problems, persecution of faith, losing loved ones. It can feel like we’ve been forgotten by the Lord, but His purposes are greater. If He is allowing circumstance, He is intending to use it. Scripture doesn’t say everything will be easy as a child of God, it promises we are never without Him.
James 1 addresses our own trials and temptations, as well as the call to care for orphans and widows. We must not forget those who also suffer around us, even in our own struggle. Aaron lives in the assurance he is known and loved by God, and as an extension of this grace, he reminds Zidor just the same.
1 I am going to say “Yes” to people. In the end of Jesus’ ministry, we know more about the people He interacted with than the tasks He accomplished.
2 I am going to say “Sorry” more often. With each year I am painfully more aware feeling right leaves me feeling empty. Feeling compassionate and contrite creates connection.
3 I am going to say “Help” (to Jesus, accountability partners, and my family) when I lose my rhythm between work and rest. Asking for help will bring self-awareness, which will aid in restoring my rhythm.
4 I am going to say “Sure” while living out one of our family values: ‘if I can’t share it, I can’t have it.’ Having my hand open to the extent it’s sacrificial, will require graciousness I am hoping “sure” will usher in.
5 I am going to pray “Grace” for caregivers, foster and adoptive parents and other front-line workers. As I pray for them to feel His ‘grace and peace in abundance,’ I will whisper it over myself as well.
6 I am going to say, “Peace” as I enter into hard conversations or work to keep short accounts with those I care about. The enemy wants to demand his destructive way over God’s, but in the midst of chaos, as His child, I have the birthright of peace.
7 I am going to say, “No” and mute my gadgets more often. In the quietness that follows, I hope to hear the steady sound of the Spirit’s prompting, instead of the opinions and entertainment of the world.
8 I am going to say “Ok” and make the choice to be offended less. The Bible teaches it’s to our benefit to overlook an offense. Wouldn’t it be lovely to walk around and give away freely the benefit of the doubt?
9 I am going to cry “Enough!” for the vulnerable child. I sometimes bite my lip and hold it in, but no longer. To the Church, within the Church, and for the Church, the rally cry grows: enough.
10 I am going to whisper, “Amen” to questions that surface and stories I don’t understand. I am going to believe this one word gives up my control to the One who holds in His hand, the year and the stories in it.
The four young men sat at the head table and looked out at the faces smiling back. Geoffrey tugged at his tie, unaccustomed to wearing one. Edmund’s broad grin transformed his face, there was no mistaking his enthusiasm. Lucky took everything in – from the people who came, to the food being eaten, and relished this celebration was, in part, for him. Ayuba looked to his left and to his right, taking in the faces of the three boys he now considered brothers. Edmund, Ayuba, Geoffrey, and Lucky all came to Agape Hope House from Back2Back partner children’s homes. From the beginning, this common ground helped forge friendship for the four young men. This friendship has led them to look to each other, and overcome adversity.
They were dressed in matching grey suits with royal blue ties, a clear mark of their transition from student to adult. “Graduating means I will no longer wear a school uniform,” explained Edmund. In Nigeria, all students wear uniforms, making them easy to spot when walking to and from school. Nehemiah and Deborah, the boys’ house parents, decided to have suits made for each of them as part of their graduation celebration. “In many ways, receiving your first suit is a rite of passage for men in Nigeria,” explained Nehemiah. “It is a symbol saying, ‘respect me; I am an adult now.’”
In early July, the four young men gathered with their classmates to officially graduate from high school. This moment can mean many things to many people, but for the four Hope Students, it is a step into adulthood and independent living. “This is exciting, but also scary,” shared Geoffrey. “I’m afraid to leave the others, but what keeps me going is we’ve been together for a long time, we’ve shared this experience, and now it’s time for what’s next.”
Lucky, the first male in his family to graduate, had steady confidence he would always reach this point. “I knew I would graduate, because God has provided a way. The people around me have encouraged me to be strong and work hard.” Though each of the teens were living separately from their families for most of their youth, they felt their support and were consistently encouraged by one another, their sponsors, and their Hope Parents. Ayuba agrees, “In life, if you don’t have someone to direct you, you’ll miss the road. Many inspirational people have been helping me. God used them to get me here.”
The graduation ceremony was followed by a gathering to celebrate the young men. Friends, family, and Back2Back staff showed up for the teens, demonstrating accomplishments are cause for celebration. Each of the teens will be pursuing university degrees like mechanical engineering and aviation.
Deborah and Nehemiah stood alongside the teens as their pictures were taken. Through his quiet leadership and her humble example, they have instilled a reverence for their Heavenly Father in each young man. Change is coming for this family, but they go forward knowing God’s provision brought them here, and will lead them on.
“Being able to graduate today,” shared Geoffrey, “is a testament to God’s faithfulness.” Ayuba, Geoffrey, Lucky, and Edmund will undoubtedly shake up the Kingdom in their pursuit of their future. We pray as they tell their story, others will hear of a good God whose plans for us are always more than we could have ever imagined.
“If my story hadn’t taken me into a children’s home, and then the Hope Program, I wouldn’t be where I am today. At best, I would have graduated from junior high, lived with my aunt, and became a mother figure to my younger siblings,” Evelyn responded matter-of-factly.
Thirteen years ago, at age 14, she moved into Douglas Children’s Home. At 16, she transitioned to the Hope Program and studied in high school. At 18, she entered college, majoring in Communication Sciences. Today, she works as an Account Executive for an international logistics company, specializing in import and export. In her story, like most, real victory came in between these highlights.
Evelyn used to watch the daughter of staff members come and go each day, dressed in business clothing. One day, after seeing her come home from a day’s work, Evelyn called out, “Hey! So what do you do?” The conversation that followed was the first step into Evelyn’s future.
“It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do after high school,” shared Evelyn. “I remember my house parents worrying about how long it took me to decide.” It wasn’t long before she decided to pursue a degree in Communications Sciences at a local university.
Watching the biological children of her Hope Program parents chase their university dreams motivated Evelyn to do the same. “Seeing the victories their children had, and the integrity they brought into every interaction, made me want to succeed.” It was from watching how they made decisions and interacted with their parents that helped Evelyn feel at home. “I’d never been a part of a family before, and they welcomed me without question. It changed everything.”
Today, Evelyn’s day-to-day looks much like any other young professional working within their career. She rises early to go to the gym before work. During the day, she interacts with clients and takes part in meetings, and afterwards she attends dance lessons, visits friends and mentors on the Back2Back campus, or she stays in and cooks with her little sister.
Evelyn is determined.“In five years, I hope to be pursuing my master’s degree in business,” she shared. Evelyn’s past will not stand in the way of her future. She lives with her younger sister and works hard to make sure they have what they need – not just a roof over their heads and food on the table, but a family environment in which they can thrive.
Evelyn is strong.Her previous hurts and hurdles have not defined the woman she is today. Once a young girl whose highest aspirations were to graduate junior high, Evelyn now owns her own car, speaks fluent English, and is an example in how to overcome the things you cannot control.
Evelyn is a fighter. She saw the dedication it took of her Hope Program parents to raise the girls living in their home, and it fueled her own perseverance. She knew pain from her story as a vulnerable child, and she refused to let that pain define her. She wants to be known as a woman of integrity, both at work and at home.
Evelyn is a young woman setting and achieving goals. She takes the wisdom she received from mentors, and now shares it with younger women. She does not allow what happened before to determine what will happen next. Evelyn was once a vulnerable child unsure about every step, and now, is a woman pursuing Jesus and planning the next ten.
“Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” Proverbs 1:5
Field story by Hope Garcia, Back2Back Staff in the Dominican Republic.
“I want you to meet someone very important,” Megan, our guide for the day, said. As a missionary with seven years’ experience, we were visiting her with the intention of learning more about ministry in the Dominican culture. As she led us through the village of Caraballo, we met a Dominican man near sixty who sat in the shade with his shirt off, proudly sporting a Yankees cap. He motioned to empty plastic chairs, inviting us to sit down, and kindly offered cold water bottles from his corner store.
“This is the community leader,” Megan said. “He doesn’t actually have a position in government, but he is, by all means, the one the community follows. It is important to empower the local leadership and work closely with them. I want you to hear from the expert on this community.” After introductions and small talk, the leader confided in us the biggest challenges he saw in Caraballo were work ethic and maintaining peace between Dominicans and Haitian immigrants, two populations with a long history of tension between them. My husband, Cheque, and I talked in the shade with this aging sage, gleaning from his wisdom.
Pioneering a new site begins with listening and learning. Even though we have served with Back2Back for over ten years in Monterrey, Mexico, we are not experts on missions in this country. Making a wise start takes time, patience, and humility. It’s too easy to want to jump into serving without taking time to understand the real need, the people, the culture, the local leadership, and the spiritual climate.
Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” So with that in mind, we are learning from those who have more experience than us in the DR. To date, we’ve visited and interviewed 23 different ministries to understand how they do their work and their perspective on the Dominican orphaned and vulnerable child. We’ve asked countless questions and listened for the last six months to better understand how God is calling Back2Back to serve.
The things we do know: there is much need in the Dominican Republic, God desperately loves the people here, and He has a hope and a plan for their future.
We will pursue answers to the things we’re still curious about. How do we cultivate more locally led ministries? What are the challenges single moms face? What does the rampant prostitution have to do with overall employment rate? We have begun offering trauma competent care training to neighboring ministries, training nearly 200 individuals, and have seen an incredible hunger and desire to learn more. One organization told us, after nearly 20 years of ministry to impoverished children in the DR, they finally feel like they have found “the missing piece of the puzzle” in trauma competent care practices. While we still have questions about the next phase, we feel certain trauma competent care will be a part of it.
Taking the time to understand the reasons behind the problems, will help focus the ministry for lasting impact. Like we often teach caregivers working with children from hard places, the problems we see on the outside are expressions of deeper needs. The Back2Back DR team will pursue opportunities to serve, seeking God’s will for the next steps.
We trust and ask you to join us in prayer, that He will lead us to the exact children whose need He sees, and desires to use us in response.
The mall doesn’t open for another hour, but there are 20 teenage boys and a few adults gathering near a shoe store. Inside, a few employees prepare for what’s to come. Chris Cox, Back2Back Cincinnati Site Director, finds his way through the crowd, checking in on each young man to make sure they don’t have any questions. Wiler, one of the young men waiting, stands off to the side, so he makes his way over to him, asking, “What do you think is going down today?”
“I don’t know what to think,” he replies, shaking his head. “I thought you were taking us to a drop-in center to shop for our back-to-school clothes.”
Wiler and the other young men, gathered in the mall, are a part of a community called, Villedge. Villedge, a Back2Back Cincinnati partner, focuses on launching teens from hard places beyond the edge of their potential. Together, Back2Back and Villedge create opportunity for young men in the community through one-on-one coaching and after-school programming.
A few weeks before the mall trip, the Back2Back Cincinnati and Villedge offered a creative way for the young men in the Villedge community to earn funds for back-to-school shopping. The Villedge Games concept was simple, each Tuesday night the young men were invited to a game night where they earned points for showing up, participating, and winning. The incentive was for each teen to attend enough in order to earn one gift card toward their back-to-school needs. For seven weeks, they gathered to play games like knockerball, archery tag, bazooka ball, football, dodge ball, and basketball. After hours of play, they finished the night with a shared meal.
When people play, laugh, and eat together, unity emerges within a community. The teens refused to miss Villedge games – no longer counting the points, but appreciating the experience.
Pepper Jenkins, a Villedge coach commented, “These games are like Sunday dinner, and you don’t want to miss Sunday dinner.”
Up until now, Wiler had been disengaged with the guys, the program, and his own development. By week three of the games, something had changed. The positive words being deposited into Wiler by coaches and volunteers were being heard. As he participated, he found success and the other teens noticed. They began to follow Wiler’s lead. With this confidence, Wiler used his voice to encourage others. Wiler had earned the most points of any participant, and by the end of the games earned his teamwork award.
A flood of memories from the summer overcome Wiler. “Good things don’t really happen to me,” he said to Chris.
Today is different.
The doors to Footlocker opened, and Cincinnati Bengals’ star running back, Joe Mixon, greeted Wiler and his friends, welcoming them in for a VIP shopping spree. Each young man chose a new pair of sneakers, some clothes, and a backpack full of school supplies.
Wiler smiled and hands full said, “You don’t mess around, do you?”
No. When it comes to vulnerable youth and families overcoming generational poverty, a community must come together to share resources and invest. Back2Back and Villedge welcome the opportunity to do so on behalf of Cincinnati’s most vulnerable.
A Nigerian son, reading to his grandmother the Christmas story in English, having been taught to read in the village education center. A Nigerian girl who this year will study high school and dream of a future as a nurse.
An Indian boy, who now sleeps through the night, feeling safe at the ministry campus. An Indian mother, who sends her children to a feeding center, knowing they will be nourished in body and spirit.
A Mexican girl, shyly introducing her foster mother as family to her teacher.
A Mexican boy, running to his tutoring session, waving a good report card at his mentor, a local volunteer who tutors each week.
A Haitian girl, turning off the lights in her bedroom, made possible by the new solar panels hanging on the roof. A Haitian boy feeling safe to share his feelings in his nurture group.
A Hope Education graduate, happy to have a few days off from her new professional job. A “strong family” attending together a Christmas celebration in Cancun, feeling supported by the Back2Back community who comes alongside of them.
A teen in Cincinnati, feeling heard by his mentor and encouraged about his future. A children’s home worker, feeling empowered to care for children after receiving the trauma competent care training.
Christmas is God’s best story, told all year through the thousands of prayers, gifts, and words you share with children around the world.
“Leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive. Your widows too can depend on me.” Jeremiah 49:11
Field Story by Shannon Pannell
What may have been a statistic before you arrived this week, I hope by now have faces and names. Their eyes may connect with yours, and even if you don’t have words, you know something is happening.
For me, it happened for the first time over 14 years ago in St. Petersburg, Russia. I felt what it meant to hurt for what hurts God. I still marvel at the God of the universe who knits us together with His children for such a time as this. The shepherd who leaves the 99 came after each one of us, just as He comes after the ones you might meet on a mission trip.
After a week of holding hands and laughing in spite of language barriers, I looked around at the 40 Russian children I had met, and cried, because after 22 years, a seven-year old changed me. Little Yura, too skinny for a typical seven-year old, shared his berries with an American who had never been hungry in her life. I knew I had nothing to give these children, but I know a God who does. As the bus pulled away, I caught Yura’s eye. Lord, I pray for the rest of Yura’s days, that he may trust you to do miracles in his life that I will never see.
This was the first time I can remember Jeremiah 49:11 becoming a reality. “Leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive. Your widows too can depend on me.’” I physically left that day, but God never has. I have visited Yura, who is now 21 years old, many times over the years. God doesn’t come and go on visits, He literally never leaves. What God did for me that week, and what He can do for you in this one, cannot be severed. His eye is on every one of us and on every child around the world. He will not ever desert us.
God used Yura to open Shannon’s heart to the fatherless. Perhaps, as you read Shannon’s story, you thought of your own little Yura. Whatever the case, may you spend this week remembering that the fatherless you’re meeting do, in fact, belong to Someone.
As you develop new relationships or deepen seasoned ones, rest in assurance, just as you’ve never been left behind, the child or teen God is calling you to love will never be left behind either. When you aren’t with that child or teen, remind yourself God holds each child when we cannot. He comforts when we are afar. He reminds them they’re deeply loved, when we are not there to say it. He never leaves. Hallelujah.