It was 2010, and Matt and Julie Cooper, long-time friends and staff members, joined us in Cancun to explore the possibility of a new site. We had some appointments to see children’s homes and were all praying God would make it clear where He wanted our next investment.
We visited an all-girl’s children’s home and realized all four of us in one office might be intimidating, so we split up; Matt and Todd sat with the director while Julie and I went to the playground to be with the children. Four-year-old twins, Sara* and Christina* sidled beside me and began braiding my hair. They were making silly jokes and we talked about everything from school to their daily routine, to what they ate. In that exchange, I learned they didn’t eat many fruits and vegetables, so once the meetings were over, we ran to the grocery and purchased fresh food for them that day.
Hours later, I took back the mango I had just handed Sara and said, “Let me peel that for you.” In her excitement, she was struggling to open it. Together we pulled at the skin and, alongside her sister and friends, enjoyed the sweet, juicy fruit. In a day of not knowing whether we’d ever see each other again, we simply savored the moment- I’ll never forget it.
We did end up launching a site there, with Matt and Julie serving as the initial directors. We engaged in a relationship with that all-girls home and over the years I visited many times, showing the girls pictures of our earliest memories together. Something was happening at our Cancun site that would eventually spread throughout the entire ministry. The staff there were passionate about supporting the families of the children in residential care and were curious about if, with some assistance, they might once again live full-time with their own children. We began community centers, identifying vulnerable families and providing classes, support, coaching, and other resources to keep them together. The Strong Families program was born and today is thriving at all of the Back2Back sites.
One of Cancun’s first strong families was Sara and Christina and their mother, Miriam*. She had long wished for reunion with her girls, but financial uncertainty made it difficult. At 10-years old, the girls had lived in the children’s home for eight years. On July 19th, 2016, they were reunited with their family.
“Miriam always wanted her girls back,” explained Julie Mowery, then Co-Director of Cancun. “When the conversation turned from ‘I wish they were with me’ to ‘I want them with me no matter what,’ we looked into how to come alongside them to make it happen.”
Staff worked diligently, addressing necessary changes with Miriam as they all looked toward reunification. The family stayed within Back2Back’s care, and the girls continued their education.
We were thrilled with how Miriam resumed responsibility for her girls, and she stood out among the mothers we served. This made it natural, in 2021, to ask her to join the staff team, where today she serves in the community center kitchen and as custodian of the facilities. Her story is a testimony to others that reunification is possible and she is proud to tell everyone her daughters are in high school.
Last spring, I was in Cancun for a staff retreat when, while I was eating breakfast, Miriam walked in carrying a large bag. She answered my quizzical look by pulling out a mango and handing it to me. “We have a mango tree in our backyard, and we have more than we can eat, so I brought some to share with everyone. Here, let me peel it for you…” As she took it back from me, I got a lump in my throat, transported back to that hot summer day all those years ago, peeling a fresh mango for her daughters to enjoy. Where there was once lacking, now was an overabundance – of mangoes, family, relationship. That mango tasted so sweet to me, it tasted like exchange, like dignity.
I’m not sure I can fully articulate what it meant to eat the mango Miriam prepared that morning, but it was a full-circle moment. We love orphaned and vulnerable children, and we will always be there to care for those without safe families; but we also love family, and we will work to preserve and protect it. This is a story not yet finished, and I hope to report later to you about Sara and Christina’s college adventures. Today, though, if you’re wondering who we are, who Back2Back is, we are this – a community of people who won’t stop. We’ll stay in the lives of others for as long as it takes. We are a team of people unsatisfied with the status quo and who work to find upstream solutions. A ministry that hopes to reflect God’s heart for what can be.