“They tied his good arm inside his sleeve,” she told me, “and they tied the sleeve to his opposite shoe. And they left him like that, all day. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t eat. And the teacher never noticed. He was in second grade.”
I closed my eyes and caught my breath at the image.
I sat at this woman’s table, recipient of her vibrant hospitality, surrounded by the seven other members of my family. Her 11 year old son, Angel, bounced his way in and out of the house in his excitement to have us there — with a bounce that I have only ever seen in one other person … a bounce that is oh, so familiar to me. My family had grinned at each other in recognition of that bounce.
“Tillman!” one of my boys had exclaimed to my oldest son. “Angel bounces just like you do when you’re excited!”
“Yup.” Till responded, and we all grinned again.
Here, in Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, deep into the rural Baja peninsula, 1500 miles from home, we had met a boy with some of the exact same diagnoses as our precious Tillman. Right-side cerebral palsy (hemiplegia). Autism. That stiff and angular arm. That unique gait. That hesitance to interact at first meeting… or second… or third. And that kid inside, just looking for someone willing to push through the awkwardness and play with him. We recognized them all and were thoroughly won over. Angel and Tillman even had a sweet moment early in the week when each held up his affected arm for the other to inspect and compare.
And now, at the end of a week of playing and working together, we sat in this family’s home and heard the painful stories of his journey and rejections. I took a breath and translated the Spanish for my family. As Rosario continued to share, her eyes began to move repeatedly to one of my daughters who sat silently with tears streaming from her eyes at these stories of bullying and abuse.
I explained to Rosario. “She is Tillman’s twin sister. Your stories hit all of us very close to our hearts.”
And in a moment of passion, Rosario drew herself up to her full height, pointed to my daughter, and with her face aglow with joy, gave an explosion of Spanish she intended me to translate. “She needs to know that NOW Angel has a place where he feels safe. She needs to know that NOW he has a place where he feels like he is in family, where he has friends, where he is learning. She needs to know that Jesus has provided Eternal Anchor for us. And Jesus makes our hearts full.”
My translation of her words came through a voice thick with my own emotion.
Dinner ended, and the kids all burst out of the house to draw Angry Birds pictures in the dirt with Angel, to chase bubbles through the streets together and to run a little wild in the pleasure of a warm evening and a friendship that transcends language and ability barriers.
And my husband and I sat in the falling dusk with Rosario, as she told us story after story of the beautiful hope that she had come to know since Jesus had met her five years ago in her desperation and she had placed her trust in him. And that small dirt courtyard was thick with holiness and joy.
Early this April, a team of 17 of us from Discovery Community Church travelled to this out-of-the-way community in rural Mexico to serve with Ancla Eterna — Eternal Anchor — for the week. In this area of Mexico, children and families with disabilities are heavily stigmatized, isolated and largely denied access to public education. In this area of significant poverty, those children without families able to care for them are placed in horribly overcrowded orphanages, where a recent joint investigation by ABC News and Disability Rights International found filthy and neglected children kept in rows of cages and tied to beds. Dr. Robert Okin, an investigator with Disability Rights International calls the human rights violations at Mexican facilities “among the worst… anywhere in the world.”
Enter Eternal Anchor, a home and community learning center for children with disabilities.
Founded just a year and a half ago, with both local Mexican and foreign leadership (including Discovery’s own, Alex & Rachel Robinson), Eternal Anchor is providing a profoundly tangible expression of Jesus’ love to the four boys living in their home — and the more than 40 children and families participating in their school program.
And the real beauty of this school program? Families can have the fee waived if they send a family member to volunteer once or twice a week – something that resonates strongly in this extended-family-oriented culture. This participation of families means vastly more than extra hands — it means isolated mothers finding support and community with others who share similar struggles. It means family members gaining a new kind of value and raised expectations for their kiddo. It means family members learning physical, occupational and speech therapy practices and practical training principles for their child’s unique needs.
And it means entire families who encounter – many for the first time – the inimitable, unmistakeable love of Jesus. A love that breaks through barriers of cultural prejudices, that prizes the weak, that spends itself on behalf of others, that always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the staff at Eternal Anchor bring this kind of love into reality.
To spend a week with a ministry like this – with an expression of love like this? All privilege.
Mornings we spent with the kids in their school program — helping with physical therapy exercises, assisting with assessments, providing enrichment activities, playing enthusiastic games of modified soccer… and having our hearts stolen by exuberant kids impacted by all kinds of disabilities. Our team of 17 included 12 students… And it simply is not possible that any leader could have been prouder of a group of engaged, humble students than I was.
Afternoons, we changed into our work clothes and headed to Eternal Anchor’s building site where we broke ground on their new facility that will enable them to significantly expand the number of family-less kids with disabilities whom they are able to house. The kids had great fun digging out the outhouse (with much picture-posing, of course!), and it was heartening to watch that perimeter wall begin to rise. Our final day, we spent several hours doing some scouring and weeding at the kids’ current home — a labor from which we loved to free the hard-working long-term staff.
Our evenings were completely integrated into the community – hosting a staff dinner one night, being hosted by community families and partner ministries on others, exploring local taco stands, worshiping with the local church.
And our nights? Well, picture a well-lit table filled with enthusiastic students, smack-talking and laughing with each other over raucous games of cards, taking a deep delight in each other. And we parents? Well — when we weren’t in the middle of those card games, you may have seen us meeting each other’s misty eyes in silent expressions of joy in our kids.
As we wrapped up our week – the favorite of these trips for those of us who have done them before – kids began talking enthusiastically of ‘next year’.
I threw my hands up – “Hey guys! Slow down! There are no plans yet!”
“Okay,” they responded. “Then we’ll start praying that we get to all come back next year.”
And what could I do with that, except smile and join them in their prayer?
So… Next time, you wanna come with us??!?
For information on Eternal Anchor, including how to give, click here