Overcomer

Rachel awoke abruptly. The clock in her room read 5:30 a.m., her husband laid asleep beside her, and the words “forgive Todd” were repeating in her head.

Forgive Todd.

How could she forgive the man who had caused her so much pain? Not knowing how to start, she went for what she knew most and grabbed her pen and notebook and began to write.

Growing up, Rachel seemed happy, but in reality she was just trying to survive. For nearly six years, she had been sexually abused by her brother’s best friend, Todd, until he acknowledged the incidents and asked her to keep quiet. “They just won’t understand,” he told her. And Rachel, in her fear, obliged.

“I was scared and felt like it was my fault for letting it happen,” Rachel said. “That’s how abuse works – you put all the guilt and shame on yourself.”

Rachel-15

Rachel tried to deal with these wounds by seeking healing through alcohol and relationships. After an incorrect bipolar diagnosis in college, she was prescribed several medications meant to relieve her symptoms.

However, the medication wouldn’t take away the deep pain she felt in her heart. The only way healing could happen was for her to fully give control to God. “He’s the only thing that can satisfy, and I didn’t really know that,” she said.

“I look back and see that God was in my suffering. He was in every single part, placing people and different things in my life to help me through. But I didn’t know it well enough to tell God that I give up. I wanted to keep my control.”

Rachel continued to hold on to that control until a heated argument with a boyfriend drove her to locking herself in her bathroom and overdosing on several medications. Before losing consciousness, she began to pray. “I didn’t want to die, I just wanted help,” Rachel said.

Lying on the bathroom floor, Rachel pleaded that God would restore her. Immediately, a peaceful presence fell over her. She knew that God was with her and she would be all right.

After a stay in a psychiatric hospital, Rachel found the courage to open up to her parents about the abuse she had endured. Her parents, though heartbroken for their daughter, were strong and comforting to her. Still, she hadn’t found it in herself to forgive Todd.

Yet.

Just as the sun was rising, Rachel looked at the words she had managed to write. It was a poem for Todd. In it, she forgave him for his actions, shared her source of joy and hope in Jesus, and ultimately invited him to seek a relationship with God. “The Holy Spirit spoke through me in that moment,” she said. “I can’t explain it, but it happened.”

Rachel-18

Feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted off of her shoulders, she hurried to wake her husband, Andrew. “She shook me awake and was so happy and bright and completely filled with the Holy Spirit,” Andrew said. “It was wild.”

Rachel began to read the poem to her husband.

By the world’s standards, you’re undeserving of my grace;

But I am a child of God, and he’s given it to me always.

I rejoice in the suffering that you put me through;

It’s brought me closer to Jesus; it’s led me to the truth.

Andrew’s eyes began to water as he saw his wife come to a place of forgiveness through the words she read. The scars from her dark past were being healed by the grace of God.

“We have a hope in Christ. I’m not a victim anymore. I’m a survivor,” Rachel said. “I suffered for a reason. I suffered so I could help other people who have no hope. These marks of abuse are marks of God’s glory, and they have allowed me to reach people in ways I never could if this hadn’t happened to me.”

While Rachel admits she still has a long way to go in her journey towards complete healing, she knows that Jesus is guiding her steps.

“The Lord has saved my life in so many ways. I am not the same person anymore,” she said. “It all goes back to the gift of grace. ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus. It really is and I’m living proof.”

Rachel-26

By Jeannie L. Rodriguez
Photos by Jessica Scott

Austin Stone Story Team Feature Stories

Open Doors

  
You often hear it said when one door closes, another one opens. You’d think we’d be eager to seize unexpected opportunity, but we are a people that hold our plans and desires with a tight fist. If we’re honest, most of us spend too much time staring at the closed door in yearning and regret to notice the one that has opened for us.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” 

See Isaiah 43:18-19 & Proverbs 3:5

How much time have you wasted on the stoop?

Blog

Never Go Hungry

  
I picked up a bad habit while in college. When life got hard and the income was low, the first thing I’d cut from my budget was food. It was an unhealthy attempt to take control of my situation; a sacrifice for the sake of satisfaction in my successes. But success is subjective and limited. It satisfies for but a minute, and we are left hungry again. My life is no longer mine now, and I sacrifice it for the sake of something a little more… eternal.  

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you… I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  See John 6:22-59

Blog

Hope for the Forgotten

Ydania Peralta stood among 50 inmates at the Homestead Correctional Institute, their eyes glued to her as she spoke to them. The topic: Jesus’ forgiveness and grace.

Along the front sat Monica, an inmate that had been struggling with the guilt and shame that abuse had brought over her. As Ydania, the Prison Ministry Director at Christ Fellowship, prayed over the group of women that afternoon, Monica raised her hands in the air and let out a cry of relief.

“I’m free! I’m finally free!” she yelled. And as she cried, the inmates around her rose up, placed their hands on Monica, and prayed.

Ydania watched the inmates in awe.

This mother of three never foresaw herself leading Bible studies in a prison. Had you asked her as a child what she wanted to be, Ydania would’ve replied with “police officer.” Instead, she and her husband, Eddie, were married when she was 17 years old, had their first child at 20, and got divorced by 26. Eddie had decided to accept Christ, but Ydania wanted nothing to do with it.

During the separation, Ydania tried to lose herself in anything she could grab a hold of. She became a workaholic, leaving her mother to take care of her daughter, and began seeing a man who was very “controlling.”

Ydania thought she had command over her life, but in reality, she was slowly sinking into depression. It wasn’t long before she was anorexic, weighing only 98 pounds. In a point of despair, Ydania attempted to take her life.

“I felt very lonely,” she said. “I think the reason why I did it was because I was done. I was drained with life.”

Ydania awoke to find herself in a hospital with the possibility of losing her daughter.

Throughout the two years of their separation, Eddie had been consistent about inviting Ydania to church with him, but she had always been quick to decline. As she sat in the hospital bed, processing the reality of her life and what she had done, Ydania decided she wanted a better life for herself and her family. She needed help. She needed a savior.

“I called my husband and I told him I couldn’t do this anymore, and he invited me to church,” Ydania said. “I went and that’s when I accepted Christ. It was one of those moments where your life does change when you have Christ in your heart, because you start to see things through Jesus’ eyes.”

Christ slowly began to heal Ydania’s heart and restore her family. She and Eddie were soon remarried and had two more children.  

ydania

With her new life now founded in Christ, Ydania wanted to pursue the things that had greater meaning and purpose. When the opportunity arose to volunteer for a bonding event, activities planned intentionally for children visiting their incarcerated parents, she didn’t hesitate.

Volunteers would adopt a family and go with them to the prison for the visitation. They would pray over them and answer any questions the family had. The parent and child would get one hug in the beginning and one hug at the end of the visit. Afterward, the volunteer would take the child and family to do an activity, such as bowling, so the last image in the child’s mind was not leaving their parent behind in prison.

“I remember the first time I went. I stood in a corner and cried because I’m able to go home and hug my kids, and they can only hug them at the beginning and at the end [of the visit],” Ydania said. “They don’t know when they are going to see each other again. I went home thinking I wanted to do more with the inmates, not just bonding events.”

Ydania was led to join Prison Fellowship, a ministry that equips local churches and trained volunteers to spread the Gospel and nurture disciples behind prison walls. Ydania had never led a Bible study before, so she went for the first time with two women and observed as they taught the small group of inmates. Every two weeks, the three women gathered to lead Bible study in the prison. At the time of Ydania’s fourth visit, she received an email that would push her outside of her comfort zone and inevitably change her life; the two small group leaders were no longer leading the group, they had not informed the inmates of the change, and it was all on Ydania.

“I cried,” she said. “I called Prison Fellowship and I told them I couldn’t go by myself, and the field director told me I had to. So I cried and prayed and showed up by myself.

“When I walked through the door, there were only three inmates there. I told them what happened and they’re like, ‘Oh, don’t worry. We’re here to help you.’ We opened in prayer and that began this prison ministry.”

Over the last five years, that small group has grown to more than 50 women, including the initial three inmates Ydania began with. Eleven core volunteers help facilitate the group at the Homestead Correctional Institute for Women, and have helped expand the ministry to four other prisons including the Dade Correctional Institute for Men, South Florida Reception Center, Everglades Correctional Institute for Men, and the Federal Detention Center for Men & Women.

“There’s no reason to fear going into a prison,” Ydania said. “You need to understand that God is in control. The Lord met us where we’re at. In the same way, the inmates cannot come to us, so we need to meet these people where they are at. They are desperate to learn and know more about God.”

Last month, the Prison Ministry was able to partner with the Homestead Correctional Institute to provide a program promoting hope and purpose to 25 handpicked inmates. The women, all of which are sentenced to life in prison, packed 200 backpacks of food for hungry children in the Miami Dade County Public School system.

Ydania recalls the smiling faces of the woman as they packed the backpacks and wrote encouraging notes for the children, dwelling on the possibility that they could have been packing a backpack for their own child on the outside.

“I’m there to talk about how much the Lord loves them, what He did for them, and that there is hope,” she said, “whether they stay there for the rest of their life, there is still hope and they can still be a blessing to someone else. To the new inmate that walks in through the door and doesn’t know anything about anything, they’re going to be a blessing to that person.”

For Ydania, the Prison Ministry has been a vehicle the Lord has used to make her bolder, more compassionate, and forgiving.

“My experiences have taught me to speak Christ more and to grab a hold of Him more,” she said. “I can trust Him. He’s given me a reason to serve others and help someone else that really doesn’t have an interest. Whatever they’ve done, they’ve done. The past is the past, and it stays there. Aren’t we new in Christ?”

By Jeannie L. Rodriguez

For more information on the prison ministry and how you can get involved, visit their website.

CF Stories is a collection that displays God at work in the lives of people at Christ Fellowship in Miami, FL. Each of us are a part of a bigger picture that shows God moving in our city, and these stories aim to give a name and a voice to many of the 100,000 they are reaching in our city and around the world. First published on the CF Blog.

CF Stories Feature Stories

A Promise Fulfilled

Kenan Parker, 15, stepped into the baptismal pool of Iglesia Bautista Zacamil in San Salvador, El Salvador in front of about 200 church members. Kenan, who was born and raised in Miami, FL, stood out among the crowd of tanned skin and dark hair with his distinctly American features, but his words bridged the divide.

“I think of El Salvador as my second home,” he said, as a Salvadorian translator made each of his words accessible to the Spanish-speaking audience. “I waited a year to get baptized here and it was the best decision I’ve ever made because you all are my family.”

The crowd erupted into cheers as Kenan wiped the tears from his eyes.

His story of faith begins when he was just five years old, with two integral characters: his father, Scott Parker, and his grandmother. Kenan first came to faith after a conversation with his dad about Jesus and sin. His curiosity for Jesus that day ended with a prayer, devoting his young life to Christ in the back of his father’s car. Scott, who is a youth pastor at Christ Fellowship, taught Kenan to depend on God in all situations, and show Christ’s love through service to others.

His grandmother taught him selflessness.

“She really impacted me a lot,” Kenan said. “She never felt the need to help herself. Anything she had, she would give to others.”

At the age of 12, Kenan’s grandmother fell ill and was sent to the hospital. The day before she passed away, Kenan made a promise to his grandmother.

“The last words she ever said to me were, ‘I want you to live your life for Christ,’” he said. “I was holding her hand and crying, and I gave her a look as if to say, ‘Yes, of course! Whatever you want!’

“When I walked out of the hospital room, I felt this tingling sensation I had never felt before,” Kenan said. “It impacted me so much. I felt God’s love and compassion after she told me to do that.”

To fulfill his promise to his grandmother, Kenan and his father set off for the first time to San Salvador during their spring break in 2014. As he interacted with students in the local schools, and evangelized in the impoverished neighborhoods, Kenan’s eyes were opened to the reality of the world outside the United States and how fortunate he was to have what he had.

Upon returning from his trip, Kenan decided that he wanted to be baptized in San Salvador where he felt his walk with Christ really began to flourish. A year later, on March 2015,  Kenan stood in front of the congregation and shared his testimony right after being baptized by his father in front of the people that had changed his life.

“When I went under the water, I saw my life flash in front of me; getting saved, my grandma dying, coming to El Salvador, all the key moments,” Kenan said. “Under there, I felt like my old life was dead, and as I came up and saw the church lights, it was like I was alive.

“When I came out of the water, I saw a lot of older ladies smiling at me and I imagined them all as my grandmother,” Kenan said. “All I could do was cry because of the happiness and the weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Kenan Baptism 01

As Kenan looks towards his future, he prays for the opportunity to serve in San Salvador every spring break. The experience has inspired him to pursue a career as a missional physician, where he sees himself taking two months of every year visiting different countries to provide medical care and supplies.

“You can’t really explain a mission trip because they’re different for everyone, but the best way to describe it is life changing,” Kenan said. “When I came back, my view on people and life and everything you can think of changed. I do what I have to do for God, and if I can help one family out of it, then it’s significant.”

By Jeannie Rodriguez

CF Stories is a collection that displays God at work in the lives of people at Christ Fellowship in Miami, FL. Each of us are a part of a bigger picture that shows God moving in our city, and these stories aim to give a name and a voice to many of the 100,000 they are reaching in our city and around the world. First published on the CF Blog.

CF Stories Feature Stories

The Modern Day Samaritan Woman

She is a beautiful woman, hiding the insecurities that dwell within her behind a gentle smile. She considers herself strong-willed, a lone achiever, able to do anything without anyone’s help. She has three daughters, been married three times, and the man she now lives with is not her husband. No, this is not the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. This is the story of Nydia Soto’s life.

It was May 2014, and the living room couch was Nydia’s spot for three weeks. Influenza B, a type of flu virus that can cause respiratory, fever and stomach symptoms, had commanded her health and the only place she could find any comfort was laying somewhat upright on the couch.  Her body was weak and feeling sore. This was unusual for the mother and pseudo stepmother of a total of five kids. She never got sick. The struggle to find her health led Nydia to reevaluate her life. She had been out of work for years, recently had a falling out with her oldest daughter, and struggled to have healthy relationships her entire life. It all had been comfortable to her until this moment.

“I never truly committed to anything in my life,” Nydia admits. “Everyone thought I would always land on my feet. My life was always going, always an adventure and I didn’t need anybody. They thought I was great but I wasn’t. I felt alone and I didn’t trust anybody.”

Her lack of commitment and trust spilled into her belief of God. Nydia said she had always believed in God, but didn’t want to accept that “Jesus was it.” Her entire life, Nydia would watch as God worked and opened doors in her life every time she prayed to Him. Most recently, it happened in the midst of a very low point in her life. After the third divorce, when Nydia was facing unemployment, foreclosure and single parenting, God showed His grace by leading her to meet Christopher Kaye.  She was certain he was a gift from God since their first meeting was on her birthday after all. He would eventually become her strongest supporter and encourager. Even so, she couldn’t get herself to commit to God.

As she lay on the couch, she thought about her life and where she was going. Was she missing the point? Nydia began to pray.

“I wanted my life to be different,” she said. “I wanted a purpose. I wanted my life to be relevant.”

God wasted no time answering her prayer.

Within the week, Nydia got a call from her oldest daughter, Darin, 17, after months of not speaking to each other. Darin was calling to invite her mother to church.

Nydia-Darin

“I only went because she asked me to go, and to spend time together without it becoming volatile,” Nydia said. “But man, the Lord wanted me there. That was the beginning of my awakening.”

Nydia’s newfound infatuation with God was strong. She continued her weekly visits to Christ Fellowship on Sundays, began attending Reach Beyonds and Small Groups, and constantly reached out to campus pastor Omar Giritli and a co-worker at her new job with questions and phone calls.  With every answer came more curiosity and an eagerness for more, leading her to begin reading the Bible regularly.

Then, on September 21, 2014, Nydia’s heart was stripped away of all its hardening, opened up, and was filled with the Lord.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion, sobbing from submission, release, and comfort,” Nydia said. “I suddenly understood why people used the expression ‘born again.’ It feels exactly like that. Like you can finally breathe, see, taste, feel, and walk intentionally. You can forget who you were, for you suddenly are who you were meant to be.”

Since opening her heart and listening to the Holy Spirit, Nydia had not been so joyful and peaceful in all her years. Obedience and gratitude to God was easy to show through her tithing and service. But when it came to relinquishing her relationship with Christopher to the Lord, Nydia’s faith would be tested.

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well fell on Nydia like a ton of bricks.

“Mom, why is Pastor Rick sub-tweeting you?” Darin said as she gently elbowed her mother on the side. Nydia felt as if God had a spotlight on her during the sermon that Sunday in January. Multiple husbands, five children to raise, the status of her current relationship — the biblical story was a mirror reflecting back her own life events and decisions. The Lord was speaking, and she couldn’t deny it.

Up until that point, Nydia and Christopher didn’t feel the need to get married. They had been dating for five years, and engaged for three. After their engagement, it was an unspoken decision to never complicate the relationship with “marriage.” Nydia knew she and Christopher would never part. She loved him like she had never loved anyone else, but now, it felt like something was lacking. They called each other “Husband” and “Wife,” yet they had only acknowledged themselves on paper as Domestic Partners.

After several weeks of listening to the story of the woman at the well, the couple felt heavy-hearted.   

“I felt so blessed by the Lord that I wanted to do the right thing for Him in all the things I do in my life,” Nydia said. “But here I was, intentionally being disobedient. Yes, we had papers, but we hadn’t stood in front of the Lord properly. We both realized that it was important and necessary to honor our love through the Lord.”

Nydia and Christopher were married just three short weeks later on February 14, before their friends and family, with Pastor Omar officiating.

Nydia_Chris_boys

“The Lord just made everything happen for me,” she said. “The fact that Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well was a big deal for me because that was me then and it is me today. He met me here, at my couch, when I was sick and gave me everything; that was my well.”

Now that they have acknowledged their relationship before the Lord, Nydia and Christopher feel like they can move their family of seven forward in growth and faith in Christ. Nydia is excited to continue falling deeper in love with the Lord and all that He has for her.  

“Even through hardships or challenges, my life has a sense of peace and purpose now,” she said, “for I am loved infinitely.”

By Jeannie Rodriguez

CF Stories is a collection that displays God at work in the lives of people at Christ Fellowship in Miami, FL. Each of us are a part of a bigger picture that shows God moving in our city, and these stories aim to give a name and a voice to many of the 100,000 they are reaching in our city and around the world. First published on the CF Blog.

CF Stories Feature Stories

“Here I Am. Send Me!” with Child-like Faith

Friends,
I’d like to introduce you to the El Salvador missions team!

EL SAL Mission Team

Last Saturday, we served as a team along side Radiant Christian Community Church in Homestead during their monthly block party. We decided it would be a great idea to not only bond a little before our big trip, but that this experience would be good practice for the missional work we will be doing in the communities of El Salvador.

Radiant is located in Waterside and Sea Pines, two low-income town-home communities near Homestead, FL. Its gathering place was a former crack house; an eye sore in the community, the place parents told their children to stay away from.

Now, the place is known as a lighthouse. It is the gathering place for Sunday worship service, for guidance, for prayer and rescue.

During Radiant’s monthly block parties, locals from the community come out to receive free health and dental check-ups through the Caring For Miami mobile unit, fresh produce from the Farm Share stand, food on the grill, a prayer station and activities for the kids. We even got to see a man be baptized after sharing his testimony and how Jesus had transformed his life.
Caring For Miami

As I played with the children and asked them questions about God, it as amazing to hear their thoughtful questions and sincere answers of who they believed God was and what He is capable of. Sometimes in the small groups I’ve been in, some adults tend to shy away when the group leader asks if anyone would like to pray. We’re more concerned about how we sound to the rest of the group than the words we’re speaking to our Creator. But when it was asked of these kids, everyone wanted to pray. Many little hands shot up in the air. The kids took turns speaking to our Heavenly Father, thanking Him for the block party, for their church, for the food they ate, and then asked God to bless their friends and family members, naming them all one by one. It got me thinking this was a beautiful example of what child-like faith looks like. Not being afraid to talk to God, saying what was sincerely on our hearts without fear or pretense, thanking Him for our lives, depending on Him and asking for the same blessing for those around us.

It is with this child-like dependence and faith that I want to go into El Salvador with. I want to depend on Jesus for the strength to serve after hours on my feet and little sleep. I want to depend on Him for patience when tempers are running high. I want to depend on Him when things don’t go according to the itinerary. I want to trust Him to give me the words to speak when someone asks for prayer or wants to know more of who Jesus is. I want to trust that He will be there, working within me and around me, and it is not of my own doing or strength than anything gets accomplished.

Radiant children
Matthew 18: 2-4
“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

To learn more about my mission trip to El Salvador and join the prayer or financial support team, visit my GoFund Me page.

Blog

“Here I am. Send me!” to El Salvador

Friends,

This spring, I will be going on my first short-term mission trip to El Salvador with my local missions team at Christ Fellowship.

Two years ago, God showed me the power of story through our testimonies. As a writer and storyteller, I have had the privilege to serve alongside churches and nonprofits such as the Austin Stone Community Church and the For The City Network to use my Storyteam Story Sundaygift of writing to promote healing, encouragement, and share the stories of how God is using ordinary people in extraordinary ways all around us. I was recently led back to my hometown of Miami, FL with a longing to serve my city and my people, and began working as the Local Missions Director for Christ Fellowship Miami Springs. My heart has grown as I have watched the generosity of my church community and God’s peace fill the souls of the broken and needy in my own backyard. Sharing God’s love and Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, whether through story or service, has been a hard journey but a sincere joy.

That said, I believe it’s time to take a step further out of my comfort zone to continue growing in my walk of faith. That means doing something I’ve never done before: take the mission and vision overseas.

During the mission trip to El Salvador, our church is partnering with Iglesia Bautista Zacamil in San Salvador. Our team is going to be administering basic health care with patients of medical clinics, visiting schools and working with children and youth from March 21 – 28. Through these activities, we hope to build relationships that will allow us to share the hope that we have found through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I want nothing more than to share my gifts and abilities with the people of El Salvador with the hope to impact their lives.

But I can’t do it without you.

Giving gifts to the children of low income families as "Santa's daughter" on Christmas day.

Giving gifts to the children of low income families as “Santa’s daughter” on Christmas day.

I am putting together a support team who will be willing to pray for our group, provide financial support for this project, or both. We need prayer for wisdom as we seek to meet the needs of people of another culture, and safety as we travel. Financially, I need to raise $900 to cover my expenses by March 7, as well as the cost for the ministry program in El Salvador. I am looking for nine partners who will join me in this journey by pledging $100, or 18 partners at $50. Of course, any amount given is greatly appreciated and will go towards spreading hope in an area that needs it greatly. You can pledge your support by visiting my GoFundMe page here.

I sincerely thank you for considering being part of my support team. I look forward in partnering together and sharing God’s beautiful story to those all around the world. Please let me know if I can answer any of your questions.

Blessings,
Jeannie Rodriguez

Blog

Artist Spotlight: Caleb Price

CalebPrice Desert&SeaFor singer/songwriter Caleb Price, life is more than the ability to play music or sell albums; it’s about Jesus. The worship leader from Austin, TX released his debut EP, Desert & Sea, last Wednesday featuring four heartfelt songs of praise, redemption and grace. From start to finish, Price’s passion and reverence for the Lord is demonstrated in his vulnerable, declarative lyrics. The EP opens with “We Sing Holy,” which features a catchy group chant praising the Lord’s holiness that gets the listener into the worship experience right away. “We Are Yours” reminds listeners of the greatest sacrifice made and the redemption found in Jesus, while “Great High Priest” praises the Lord for all He is. The EP closes strong with “Nothing,” a prayer-like song surrounded by the aesthetic sound of the keys, guitar and drums, echoing the grandness of the God Price sings to.

“My hope is that when people hear these songs, they will be stirred to worship Jesus for what he has done and to share this great news with the world,” said Price. “We have brought nothing to God and we can offer nothing that he needs, yet he still draws near to us and adopted us as sons and daughters. We can sing and worship because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.”

Price was drawn to music ministry in 2006 as a sophomore at Palm Beach Atlantic University when he began to play the acoustic guitar and piano for his local church’s Spanish worship band. He didn’t take the calling seriously until leading worship for the Student Ministry at the Austin Stone Community Church four years ago. That led to his three year internship/residency with Austin Stone Worship, where he met his EP producer Wes Ardis and engineer Brady Pettit. The title Desert & Sea was inspired by Matthew 4, when Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to fast and be tempted.

“We are always coming out of, or going into, a desert at all times in our lives,” Price said. “It’s in the deserts of life that we come into a posture of dependence and cling to Jesus as our only hope.”

Price hopes to record a 6-8 track record of hymns in the near future, but for right now is focusing on being a more faithful follower of Jesus.

“Not only do I have the privilege of pointing people to Jesus by reminding those around me of Gospel truths,” said Price, “but also the opportunity to remind my forgetful heart of who God is and who I am in Christ.”

Desert & Sea is available for download on iTunes and Amazon. Visit CalebPriceMusic.com for more information on Price and his ministry. Photos by Alexis Hail

Caleb Price_blogimage03

Blog Music

Someone Fighting

Elizabeth Newsom wanted to give back. Having settled in Austin, she was looking for ways to get involved around the city. Across the street from Sno-Beach, the snow cone stand she owns, sat the Helping Hand Home for Children. Every day, Elizabeth watched as the children played outside, and she began to get curious about the home’s volunteer opportunities. Her biggest concern was attachment to the children, so she decided to take a position as a bedtime reader, thinking that it would be a “pretty safe and easy” way to get involved. However, she soon learned that even children who are supposed to be going to sleep find a way of sneaking into your heart.

It didn’t take long before Elizabeth found more ways of interacting with and serving the children. Over the course of three years, she soon found herself at the home every Friday playing games and dancing with the children.

On these nights, one young girl in particular stood out to Elizabeth.

“She was always talking about her CASA and how much she couldn’t wait to see her CASA,” Elizabeth says. “I thought, How can I be one of these people that this girl looks forward to seeing every month, and obviously plays such an important role in her life?”

A CASA volunteer, or Court Appointed Special Advocate, is appointed by judges to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court and other settings.

While that little girl sparked the interest in CASA, The Austin Stone Community Church provided the opportunity. The Stone preached the Adopted series during this time, and Elizabeth, filled with curiosity, signed up for an information session on foster care and adoption.

“I decided I needed to take the next step and push my involvement to the next level,” Elizabeth explains. “The kids in the child welfare program had been weighing heavily on my heart, and I thought this was not only a good way to further my involvement, but if one day I wanted to be a foster parent, I would have another viewpoint and know what I would be getting myself into.”

elizabeth newsom 02

Elizabeth has now been a CASA volunteer for one and a half years, and in that time, she has served seven children from three families. As a CASA, Elizabeth gathers information about each case, gets to know the children and families involved, builds a trusting relationship between the children and their caseworkers and attorneys, and advocates for the children in court.

“You have to really know the kids so that you can go before the judge and tell him, with no doubt in your mind, what is the best thing for the kids,” she says. “The CASA volunteer is the only person on the case that isn’t being paid and really doesn’t have a dog in the fight. You’re just a member of the community looking out for the kids.”

Elizabeth is challenged by many situations as she handles her CASA cases, but finds that the most difficult part is saying goodbye.

“A lot of these kids have never had healthy goodbyes,” Elizabeth explains. “They’ve just had people come in and out of their lives and abandon them. Your role as a volunteer is to prepare the kids for the next step in life when the case ends, but it’s easier said than done. I do my best to let go in a way that they will know I’ll always be there, despite not being their CASA anymore.”

The experience has transformed Elizabeth’s perspective on life and challenged her to step outside her comfort zone in many ways—whether it’s delivering hard news to the children or having tough conversations with parents. And during the court proceedings, Elizabeth realizes that she is not working in vain.

“You’re up in front of a judge, and they’ve just finished hearing from the attorneys and turn to you and ask, ‘Well CASA, what do you think?’ It’s pretty empowering to actually have a judge listen to you report on the kid and value your opinion,” Elizabeth shares. “It makes it seem like all the time and effort you’re putting into the case really does matter.”

At the end of the day, she hopes to convince the children she serves of one thing: “As dark, desolate and hopeless as the situation may seem, there is hope and someone fighting for their best interest, because they’re worth it.”

As seen on Austin Stone Stories October 10, 2014.

Austin Stone Story Team Feature Stories
Jon and Grace loved the girls as their own, but the union almost didn't come to pass.

They Were Meant For Us

As 3-year-old Alexandria Jean and 2-year-old Amora took turns banging the judge’s gavel in a Travis Country courtroom, Jon Ong and Grace Santosa fought to hold back tears.

The sound marked the end of a long and emotional journey that ultimately made them “Mommy” and “Daddy” to the two little girls they held in their arms. Love and excitement filled the room as family and friends celebrated the new additions to the family, and with much reason. The union was one that almost didn’t come to pass.

Jon and Grace never wanted to have biological children, but they always wanted kids. When the time came to start a family, adoption had been their plan A.

After moving to Round Rock in 2011, the husband and wife team became licensed foster parents. Fostering allowed them to serve the children in their city while giving them a taste of what to expect as parents.

One morning while Grace was at work, a client became aware of her desire to foster and adopt. He shared the story of his own child’s adoption through STARRY and strongly encouraged her to look into it.

Jon and Grace began working with STARRY as respite caretakers, providing short-term care to children in order to give other foster parents and families a break and to gain experience as parents before accepting their first foster placement. During their first weekend they cared for three boys, ages 2, 4, and 7.

“We were completely tired and wasted afterward,” Grace said. “We didn’t take in kids for a month after that. We were just so overwhelmed.”

Jon and Grace grew as parents as they continued to foster and provide respite care for children until 2013. That’s when they told STARRY that they were ready to adopt. Their case manager, Nita Riggins, introduced them to two young girls named Alexandria Jean (AJ) and Amora, who were in need of a loving home and might be candidates for adoption.

At the time, the girls were in the care of foster parents Shawn and Ellen Briscombe. In a series of respite stays, Shawn and Ellen were surprised at how comfortable AJ and Amora felt around the couple.

“Every time we saw Ellen she’d tell us, ‘These girls were meant for you. You guys are their parents,’” Jon said. “She believed deep down in her soul that we were meant to have them.”

The girls were placed in the care of Jon and Grace in June of 2013, but the road to adoption was not smooth. Their birth mother was willing to terminate her parental rights, but at almost the last minute, she suggested that a distant aunt was interested in adopting the girls. However, after several months it was determined that the aunt’s home was not the best fit for the sisters.

In February 2014, AJ and Amora were officially adopted by Jon and Grace, where they found their forever family.

Now a family of four, Jon, Grace, AJ and Amora are looking forward to a future saturated with joy, family travel, play dates and even a minivan. They are grateful for God’s sovereignty and are completely open to whatever He has in store for them next. But for now, Jon and Grace are focused on enjoying their children and the moments they share together.

“It was amazing to see that when we were losing hope, we had our friends at church, Ellen and Shawn, STARRY staff and everyone around us encouraging us not to lose heart,” said Jon.

“AJ and Amora challenge me every day to think of someone other than myself,” Grace said, “and they just make us happy from the beginning of the day.”

By Jeannie L. Rodriguez

___

As seen on Turning Points Magazine May/June 2014

Feature Stories Turning Points Magazine