“Good morning, Ismael,” the staff individually greet the children at Rancho de los Niños.
Twelve months ago, seven-year-old Ismael is sitting in his stroller, gazing off in the distance. Typically, he doesn’t reply, his eyes fixed on the space in front of him. Revealing little feeling or expression, Ismael cannot respond to his name or any noise around him. He sits lifeless, resisting all touch.
Born premature weighing 1.76 pounds, Ismael struggled in his early years. Medical records indicate weak muscle tone, an inability to walk, respiratory issues and no language skills. Vague diagnoses and inaccurate medication result in minimal developmental gains.
When first placed at Rancho, Ismael is not only inactive and unresponsive to those around him, his spontaneous movement is limited to a nervous habit – scratching and pulling on the back of his ear, under his arms and on his chest leaving deep wounds. Though intended to self-calm, the movements are harmful to his skin and overall health. Later termed as “bio-stimulant feedback,” the staff at Rancho de los Niños can do little more than focus on preventing Ismael from hurting himself.
As partnership with Back2Back grows and child sponsorship begins, the pursuit of long-term answers for Ismael begins.
In July 2013, Back2Back staff attempt a temporary solution, while they search for a long-term answer. Child boxing gloves are purchased and placed over Ismael’s little hands, which allow for movement but buffer his body from his hands. His wounds can now heal, as the journey for deeper, holistic care continues.
Determined, Back2Back staff begin combing the internet and find an innovative product from the United Kingdom. This specialized sleeve connects to the shoulder and protects Ismael from scratching and pulling his skin, while also giving him the range of motion to pick up objects and become an independent eater. This soft, silky sleeve fits like a sweater, snugly over his hands, providing a barrier for his skin in a more natural, less obtrusive way.
In August 2013, through Child Sponsorship funds, Back2Back locates a pediatric neurologist at a Children’s Hospital in another city for a second opinion. After only 4-5 appointments, Ismael is on his way to a better life. Correct medication starts and is adjusted several times over the following months. This individualized treatment is already resulting in remarkable change. Becoming more alert, Ismael looks at others and communicates his preferences and needs.
Today, Ismael’s physical wounds have healed. He can be trusted to play independently for a few minutes at a time. With consistent and accurate treatment, Ismael has greater educational opportunities than he did before. Now that his harmful scratching has stopped, Ismael can be enrolled in a school for children with special needs. Since March 2014, Ismael has attended school where he receives physical therapy and can be seen learning and playing with peers.
Next up: pursuing speech therapy.
With effective medical treatment and individualized attention, Ismael is flourishing. Staff can now focus on setting goals for improving cause and effect, language, and motor skills. He is learning to respond without tears when encouraged to walk, and will now walk alongside anyone willing to hold his hand. Ismael looks forward to the arrival of mission teams. He initiates contact and loves to be held. This human touch and affection has been key to Ismael’s developmental gains. If you visit Rancho, you will likely see Ismael standing at your feet, arms lifted up. He is inviting you to engage with him in his now bigger world.
For more stories of hope, join us on December 8th. Click here
The first of its kind in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, Rancho de los Niños Children’s Home was created to care for children with special needs. Once a farm near Mazatlan, Rancho is home to 21 uniquely beautiful children and young adults.
Here, we meet Miguel who has lived at Rancho for nine years. Miguel is passionate about music, which drives his interest in making his own musical instruments. He loves the children deeply, caring for and playing with them everyday. Viewed as a ‘big brother’, he relishes in bringing a smile to their faces and is quick to sacrifice to meet their needs. When the children need individual attention, Miguel holds, comforts and prays over them. He has found an extended family.
Miguel is a helper – he gives to others putting their needs above his own. So accustomed to putting others first, he looks puzzled when Back2Back staff member, Chad Huber, asks, “I love that you love to help, but what can we do for you? What would you like for your birthday?”
Miguel shrugs his shoulders and confides with a grin that he would love a real drum set. Back2Back staff searched the local area for an electric drum set with no success. The staff asked Miguel to be patient. “We will keep trying,” Chad promised. On a brief trip home to the U.S., Chad found just the right set. He carefully boxed the gift and transported it over the border for Miguel’s big day.
After a month of searching, Miguel’s special gift would be revealed. Wrapped in festive, multi-colored paper, the drum set would fulfill one of Miguel’s special wishes. After gathering all the children for the celebration, he tears open the paper and beams. His smile communicates a deep understanding of how truly loved and valued he is.
Anxious to play music, he opens the box, removes the set and places it on the table. Raising the drumsticks in the air prepared to play, Miguel pauses. He turns to the children, holds up the drumsticks and asks, “Who would like to play?”
Miguel is fluent in serving others. However, his developmental needs impact his ability to live independently. The Mexican government does not have a support system in place for adults with disabilities, leaving future planning in the hands of the children’s home. Back2Back is committed to lifelong care for the children at Rancho de los Niños, as the staff prays for and works with Miguel about his future plans. Visiting mission trip team members with specialized backgrounds help educate Back2Back staff on Miguel’s strengths and options for his future. Many ideas surface as we dare to dream. As we abide in God and seek His guidance, we trust He will reveal the next step. In the meantime, Miguel will bloom where he is planted, caring for others, joyfully playing his drums, and patiently waiting for the next step to be revealed.
By Adam Gellenbeck, Back2Back Field Staff, Mazatlan, Mexico
Sixteen-year old Alberto loves textile arts, soccer and skateboarding. He enjoys spending afternoons with Back2Back staff at a local skate park. He strives to be a leader in his children’s home, someone they can look up to and come to for advice. He is passionate about living his life as an example for the younger boys in his dorm. Alberto has a compassionate heart and a desire to serve. “When I grow up, I want to help other people in need,” he says.
As an orphaned teen in Mazatlan, Mexico, Alberto could be involved in so many other things besides soccer and skateboarding. Statistics indicate orphaned children have an increased likelihood for involvement in drugs, human trafficking, or the black market. But Alberto is not a statistic, nor are the other four boys at Salvation Army Children’s Home who have no family to visit on the weekend.
At Back2Back, we strive to provide children like Alberto with the love and encouragement they need to thrive in the midst of difficult circumstances with no family support. Each weekend, the boys watch as one-by-one the other children are picked up for a weekend visit with a family member. They wonder what they did wrong for their family not to visit them. I love building into these boys for many reasons, but the greatest reason is to share hope with them. I invest in them through fellowship and community, cultivating a sense of belonging and giving them a chance to be themselves. It is amazing how a trip to the movies or dinner together at a taco stand provides a sense of belonging and acceptance. They enjoy typical boy antics – rough-housing and practical jokes, but ultimately each boy has dreams and hopes for his future.
Back2Back’s dream in Mazatlan, Mexico is to build a stronger sense of hope for each of the children we serve, a hope based on the promises of a faithful God. We are in the midst of a land campaign to develop a Back2Back ministry site in Mazatlan, a project that will allow us to better serve children and empower them to break free from the cycle of poverty. This is only possible through the Body of Christ coming together. The vision is for a ministry site that will not only facilitate mission teams and the staff, but also create an environment of hope for each child’s future. The property will also include multi-purpose space for teen retreats, child development, training sessions for local caregivers and churches, and ministry time with current Hope Education Program students. In addition, we will construct six Hope Program houses for teens like Alberto. We envision a Hope Program in Mazatlan that will allow orphaned children to live in a home, experiencing a healthy family life for the first time. The goal is to not merely meet each child’s physical needs, but to equip each child with the tools and resources to have successful futures by investing in their spiritual, emotional, social and educational development.
The more time I spend with Alberto, the more I see his incredible potential and just how much God cares for him. I’m grateful to play a role in helping him understand the love of his heavenly Father. I’m excited for the completion of this project, as it will enable us to provide better care for the children we serve, ensuring they have the tools to pursue an education when they age out of the children’s home. As we come alongside orphaned and vulnerable children, we are eager to see how God begins to renew lives and rewrite futures.
For more about the Mazatlan vision, click here.
By Chad Huber, Back2Back Mazatlan, Mexico Field Staff
Recently, one of the older girls who lives at Rancho de los Ninos Children’s Home realized that a very special friend was visiting her again. Fifteen-year old Cinthya met Tracey when she visited Mazatlan with a mission group from Riverview Church in 2013. Tracey has a passion for speaking life and affirmation into the lives of teenage girls. She makes a point to stay in touch with them by sending notes, pictures and encouraging them on their social media pages. When Cinthya saw that Tracey had returned for a visit, she ran into her arms and wept. This is what it looks like to go after hearts with love. You never know how much power your encouragement holds in the life of a young person like Cinthya.
By Gabriel Velasco, Back2Back Mazatlan, Mexico Director
Leo Hernandez, a student in Back2Back’s Hope Education Program in Monterrey, Mexico, has experienced God working in his life in a very real and personal way over the past year. Despite challenges in his life, Leo has also proven himself to be goal-oriented and a hard worker. After receiving a positive recommendation from Leo’s current Hope Program house parent, we invited him to participate in Back2Back’s summer internship program, serving alongside our full-time staff and volunteer groups here in Mazatlan, Mexico. During the process of raising financial support for his internship, Leo frequently sent me messages about how excited he was about this opportunity.
While Leo and I had many conversations over the summer, one of the most significant took place soon after he arrived in Mazatlan. Leo grew up in Manantial de Amor, a children’s home in Monterrey. The Salvation Army Children’s Home, one of the homes we serve here in Mazatlan, reminded him of the children’s home where he grew up. Early in the summer, our team had the opportunity to provide respite care for the twenty-four children at Salvation Army. One night, while we were rushing around trying to get twenty-four children to bed, I quickly asked Leo to lead night time devotions. He looked at me, hesitated, and asked what he should share about. In the chaos, I didn’t give him much direction.
After getting all of the little girls to their dorm, helping the kitchen crew clean-up and completing other chores, I paused to check on the boys’ dorm. Leo was sitting in a chair, with a circle of children gathered around him. They alternated between listening closely and interrupting, asking questions and chiming in as he shared with them that he also grew up in a children’s home. He has been in their place, and he knows how they feel. They shared some of the things they face at school and with their friends, and Leo was able to use what God has taught him to comfort them and speak truth into their lives that night.
Every time Leo visited the Salvation Army Children’s Home this summer, the kids came running at him, full-speed, with hugs and excitement. He was their super-star and hero this summer. Before he returned to Monterrey, Leo and I had a conversation about what God says about us as His children. I asked him if he was allowing God’s words and promises to take root in his heart. Leo replied that he needed to think about it more before answering. But, there was no need for a verbal answer- I watched him living God’s truths out every day.
By Gabriel Velasco, Back2Back Mazatlan, Mexico Director
Shirley, a Hope Education Program student, was one of the girls who had lived in our Hope Program home when Kelly and I were house parents in Monterrey, Mexico. I remember the day when she came to live with us. She was shy and reserved, trying to soak everything in. Little did I know that once she felt comfortable with us it would take an army to keep her quiet, in a good way, of course.
As a house parent to Shirley, God allowed me to see incredible leadership potential in her. I remember our endless talks about what she was going to study at college over midnight snacks. We loved hearing the girls share from their heart. It was a privilege to have a chance to speak life into them and share God’s heart with them. Kelly and I consistently affirmed them, telling them that we believed in them and what God could do through their lives. All these conversations and memories came to mind this summer, when Shirley came to Mazatlan to serve with us as an intern. In that moment, I was overcome with anticipation and excitement for one of our girls to serve alongside us as an intern. She had worked as hard as any other intern to come, not really knowing what to expect, but expecting God to work in her and through her.
It has been an emotional experience for Kelly and I to see Shirley growing in her faith, seeing her believe in who God says she is. On her last day in Mazatlan, we prayed for Shirley with all the other interns. I was full of joy, as she was beginning to better understand what God says about her and everything that she has to offer to His Kingdom. Seeing Shirley grow in her faith as she steps into new opportunities has given me tremendous joy. I thank God for the privilege of being a part of her life.
Articulate, outgoing and personable – fifteen-year old Rubi exudes confidence. She loves people and enjoys helping care for the younger children at the orphanage she calls home. In her spare time, she dances to traditional Mexican music.
Each child at Salvation Army Children’s Home in Mazatlan, Mexico bears a story that is all their own. Fifteen-year old Rubi is no different. She arrived at the orphanage after fleeing an unsafe situation in another state in Mexico. Now, at Salvation Home, Rubi has a safe place to live, hot meals, nurturing care and a warm bed. For the first time in her life, Rubi has access to education and space to dream of what her future might hold. She hopes continue her studies at a culinary school and one day become a great chef. Rubi, and other orphaned teens like her will have the opportunity to pursue their dreams through the Hope Education Program in Mazatlan.
We recently celebrated the one year anniversary of the launch of our ministry site in Mazatlan, Mexico. Back2Back Mazatlan was started to provide holistic care to orphans at three children’s homes in this area. Beyond the vast number of orphans in this city is the face of one little boy: nine-year old, Jose Angel. After child services discovered neglect at his home, he and siblings were dropped off at a local children’s home. We quickly discovered that he had never attended school or learned to read, as he had been forced to stay home to care for his younger sisters while their mother worked a double shift at a factory six days a week.
This year in Mazatlan, we are excited to focus on partnering with local volunteers, nationals from within the community. One such individual is Alejandra, a high school senior who heard of Back2Back through staff members who attend her church. Over her Christmas break, she began tutoring Jose Angel. Thanks to Alejandra’s encouragement and coaching, Jose began receiving the one-on-one attention that he needed. In a few short weeks, he advanced from taking several minutes to struggle through sounding out a single sentence to reading with comprehension. His confidence is up and even his teachers have taken notice of his progress.
Alejandra’s family also took notice, and wanted to get involved. They began mentoring two of the teen girls from Jose’s children’s home, building into them one-on-one and taking them on weekend outings to give them a reprieve from life at the orphanage. Now, with her last semester of high school back in session, and with the busyness of dance classes and pom squad, Alejandra is rearranging her schedule to allow her to continue visiting the home on a regular basis. She and her family have recognized the call to be the hands and feet of Christ, serving those in need. Locals, such as Alejandra and her family, and others like them, are exponentially increasing the impact Back2Back can have in Mazatlan.
Thank you for coming alongside us to bring hope to orphans like Jose in Mazatlan and beyond! We are grateful for your partnership on this journey!
It’s hard to put into words how amazing yesterday was for the Back2Back Mazatlan staff! We spent the day serving at Rancho de Los Ninos, a children’s home in Mazatlan that caters to orphans with special needs. Our staff started by cleaning their bathrooms and floors while the children were at school. They needed some attention to say the least. Then after the children returned home, we pulled out the Christmas decorations and that’s when the real fun began. We were so excited to spread Christmas cheer to the children during what could otherwise be a difficult time of year.
A few especially sweet moments are etched in my memory: Victor’s sweet smile the entire time we were hanging Christmas lights on the tree. Jesus Tigre and Julian, two boys who are wheelchair bound, so excited to touc h all of the decorations. Ricky helping me put HIS ornament on the tree and sitting right by the stereo as it blasted Christmas music the entire time. Decorating gingerbread houses which were quickly sampled by the children. Carina and Carlitos eager to help put the ornaments on the tree, putting several ornaments all on the same branch. The older boys helping us reach the top of the tree and helping us hang paper chain garland over the whole house. This day will forever be one of my favorite memories of serving. Bringing Christmas cheer to children’s homes is a simple, yet powerful way to show Christ’s love and communicate the true spirit of Christmas.
This time of year, we’re especially thankful for you! Thank you for coming alongside us with your support, as we serve orphans in Mazatlan! Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!