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.  


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.


“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.


“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

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

Your Holy Grail could be hiding at Planet Records

If collecting records can be considered a modern-day form of antiquing, then consider Planet Records the mother of all antique shops.

As store fires, Napster and new forms of digital music threatened his old-fashioned record store at the turn of the century, John Damroth reconceived his store as just that.  What if, he reasoned, Planet Records became a place people came to find rare records or those no longer in stock. What if it became a place people brought their old collections for resale?  What if they looked at his record store as a place to buy and sell “antique” music?

Planet Records

Planet Records

Today, Planet Records, which opened in 1983, boasts of the largest collection of classical records in greater Boston.  It’s a place in which aficionados can find the limited-edition, original-remastered recording of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas No. 1, 2, 3 & 15, Japanese edition, and conductor Alfred Cortot’s performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos BWV 596. And it’s a place to find “used music” for prices ranging from $1 to $50.

But this store, which grew up in Kenmore Square between The Rat, a fabled but now defunct venue, and Celebrations, a disco club, also has its share of contemporary classical, jazz, rock and punk.  It’s a place to browse – just like those antique stores Damroth had in mind.

“One of the things about the store is that it’s like a mutual fund,” Damroth said. “We have a spread of different stuff just in case the classical guy doesn’t come in, we have stuff for the jazz guy or the rock guy.”

Damroth first came to Boston more than 30 years ago to break into advertising. He wanted to be the funny, creative guy, but instead he was the guy who got yelled at for not telling his supervisor that her mascara has run. After three months, he decided he was done with advertising.

He took a job at a record store, where he realized music was something he loved and came naturally to him. After managing the store, Damroth knew this was something he could do himself. That’s when he decided to open Planet Records.

The store was built on the parlor floor of an apartment building in Kenmore Square. Damroth did all the construction himself, and hired his brother who is a contractor to help with the carpentry. The store proved to be such a success that Damroth was able to pay off the store’s loan in the first year. He decided to expand into the neighboring apartments and the store grew by the year.

In 1997, Damroth opened a second shop on JFK Street in Harvard Square.

Planet Records seemed to be the smartest investment he could have made, Damroth said, until his Kenmore Square shop burned to the ground by a mysterious fire in 1998.

“We lost everything,” Damroth said. “It wasn’t a big tragedy, but the tragic part came with my connection to some of the records that were lost. A lot of them were amazing.”

A charred Squier Stratocaster from the Kenmore store fire hangs on the wall of Planet Records.

A charred Squier Stratocaster from the Kenmore store fire hangs on the wall of Planet Records.

With only one shop to house Damroth’s entire music inventory, the store on JFK Street grew cramped, but business continued as usual.

It wasn’t until the late ’90s and early ’00s that Damroth started to see business decline with the rise of Napster and digital music sales. Planet Records was lucky if it sold an LP a week.

“It just got ridiculous,” Damroth said. “But I refused to give it up because records mean something to me. It’s what we’re about.”

That stubborn commitment to music and dedication to record collecting proved wise as Planet Records outlived the lull of record sales and returned to making a profit. Damroth decision to be an antique shop for music enthusiasts like Bruce Kelly has paid off.

Kelly, a die-hard Beatles fan, said he likes to frequent Planet Records every two to three weeks in search for older, obscure collectable CDs and LPs. He isn’t shy to admit that he owns more music than he could ever listen to.

“I’m so happy places like this still exist,” he said. “They’re declining, but it’s a lot more fun than searching for music online. You stumble upon things you didn’t know you were looking for.”

Besides its current store location on Mt. Auburn Street in Harvard Square, Damroth said Planet Records makes about 40 percent of its sales from CD and record sales on eBay and Amazon, making 20 to 30 sales a day and shipping them out the next morning.

Customers not only frequent the store to buy music, but to part with it as well. Such is the case with long- time customer Dan Sabino.

Sabino has joined the Dark Side.

He’s switching over to digital music. As a House DJ, digital makes it easier to collect music, create podcasts and share it with others, he says.

On a recent Sunday, Sabino, who has been visiting Planet Records since its early days at Kenmore Square, enters the Harvard Square store with three crates full of his ’90s Pop, House and Techno record collection. He walks them over to Damroth and lays them on the counter, just a fraction of what his collection used to be.

“If I don’t sell them, they’d cover my walls,” said Sabino, who is keeping some records for sentimental reasons. “And I can’t live like that anymore.

“You still want someone to enjoy what you used to own,” he added.

Damroth carefully examines every record before it is packaged and sold, or bought from customers.

Damroth carefully examines every record before it is packaged and sold, or bought from customers.

Damroth carefully takes a record, wipes it down with a cloth and holds it to the light. It takes an eye to see the history of the record, the way the grooves look and the record’s condition after it’s been played several times. He also looks for scratches, but those are easy to spot.

Damroth is picky, and on this day Sabino has no luck. Planet Records won’t be buying his collection.

“I’ve been really careful about condition since day one,” Damroth said. “If you’re looking at something in here, chances are it’s in really good shape, if not perfect shape.”

Richie Thorn is also visiting the shop today, this time as a client. Thron works as a distributor for record stores in the Northeast. He used to own a record store himself, but had to close it in 2004 when music downloading became popular.

He said he’s grateful for stores like Planet Records that keep true to music, and he hopes that the current young generation discover the magic in collecting music.

“I want to stress the importance for college kids to keep music alive and stores like this alive,” said Thorn. “They need to discover this is where it’s really at.”

Until then, Damroth will continue running Planet Records as an antique shop, buying and selling priceless pieces of music to those who still have an eye toward the past.

“The heart of our store is basically these people who are looking for music that they want,” Damroth said.  “They want that sort of Holy Grail to them. It’s different for everyone, and we’re here to help people find that stuff.”

By Jeannie L. Rodriguez

An oldie, but a goodie. Written Spring 2012/ Boston, MA.

Feature Stories Music

The Hidden Talent of Terrance Carson


Terrance Carson headshot

Texas Baptist Children’s Home has been home to thousands of boys with incredible gifts and talents for more than 60 years, but perhaps never one like 15-year-old Terrance Carson.

Terrance is one of seven boys that call Cottage 8 home and during the day he does just as they do: he attends his classes, completes his chores, and occasionally joins in on a pick-up game of after-school basketball.

But in the evenings, Terrance leaps, kicks and turns his way across glossed wooden floors with nearly as much ease and poise as a seasoned danseur.

Terrance is a dancer, one with more talent than is usual for his young age, and it’s beginning to turn heads.

“He has something that could lead to a scholarship and professional dance in his future,” said China Smith, his dance coach and mentor. “It was very apparent to me, almost like his body was made to do this.”

Terrance is a dance major at The Fine Arts Academy at McCallum High School and a member of Smith’s dance company, Ballet Afrique, in East Austin. Although talented, he goes about his life in humility and quiet confidence.

For this teenager, dance is more than a hobby; it’s his preferred way of communicating.

“I take dance as an expression or as a way to tell a story,” he said. “I like to blend contemporary and African styles together. It’s really fun to connect to my history and share it with other people. It has made me grow a lot.”

At the age of 9, Terrance got his first taste of the arts while performing for a summer camp musical. That’s where he met Smith and their paths crossed again a few years later when he moved to the Texas Empowerment Academy. Smith worked as a dance instructor and Terrance, seventh grader, decided to take Smith’s dance class.

“When we’re just talking about boys in dance in general, ballet requires a certain amount of discipline and focus that even adults have a hard time with,” said Smith. “But this is something he loves to do.”

After a rigorous audition, Terrance was accepted into the McCallum Fine Arts Academy. Due to family needs, he was accepted into residence at TBCH and was able to continue his studies at The Fine Arts Academy. For that, Terrance is grateful.

“Everyone else has things going on too, but they do a really good job of helping you do what you want to do,” Terrance said. “It would have been a lot harder to go to school and be in the dance company living anywhere else.”

After Smith, who is protective of her protégé, met his house parents, David and Kae Lyn Geyman, any misgivings she might have had about him moving into the Children’s Home disappeared.

“We talk about what a blessing it is to have so many families around you to support you with love,” Smith said. “I think that’s going to be what makes the difference in a successful story for him. He has all these people that are going to love and care for him.”

His house parents and cottage brothers saw him dance on stage for the first time in December. The entire cottage watched his performance in awe of his capabilities, applauding his every move, and bragging about his accomplishments all the way home.

“I really enjoyed them coming out,” he said. “It’s nice when you go out to do something you like, having people appreciate it and supporting you.”

By Jeannie L. Rodriguez
Photos by Dwayne Hills (DHills Photography)


As seen in Turning Points March/April 2014

Feature Stories Turning Points Magazine

A Goodnight Kiss


SONY DSCSix year-old Issac Andes lies in bed as his mother, Amanda, tucks him in for the night. She leans in for a kiss and a sly smirk eases across young Issac’s face. He looks across the room to his father, Jon.

“Look Daddy, I’m giving your wife a kiss!” he brags before throwing his arms around Amanda and attacking her with his lips. He kisses her on the cheek, the nose, and the forehead. Between each display of affection is the sound of laughter.

This is Issac. He is the lover in the family and the first of four children adopted through STARRY into the Andes family household. Issac was adopted in March 2010. His sister Ainsley, also 6, was adopted just five months later. The two siblings quickly formed an inseparable bond.

“Never have I met a kid with a heart that Issac has,” Amanda said. “He loves people, he loves helping and he loves his family. He is seriously a jewel.”

For the next two years, Amanda and Jon continued to foster children through STARRY while enjoying the time with their new family. Their hearts still longed to expand their family and Amanda prayed for God’s guidance. If they weren’t to pursue adopting more children, she and Jon wanted some peace of mind.

But the peace never came.

“We kept feeling like there were other kids that God wanted in our family,” she said.

The Andes called STARRY to give notice of their availability for any children seeking adoption. Because they had adopted two local children already, Amanda and Jon doubted the likelihood of their being chosen as parents again. They still believed the Lord was calling them to grow their family, but how?

They began to consider the possibilities of an international adoption, but God had other plans in mind. Within a week of their decision, the Andes received the phone call from STARRY that they were on the final list for two little boys, Eli and Canaan.

“As soon as we stepped out there and said, ‘Whatever you want, God. We’re willing to do whatever we have to do,’ we got a phone call,” Jon said. “It was one of those times where you know that it was God who answered what we were going through at the time.”

In October 2012, Eli and Canaan were adopted into the Andes family. The addition turned Issac and Ainsley’s world around. Ainsley now had to learn to share her beloved big brother. Issac, being the lover that he is, embraced his new role. In a casual display of brotherly duty, Issac asked his dad where he could find the vacuum cleaner to pick up after his siblings.

“It’s not my mess, but it’s my responsibility,” Issac told his dad.

Amanda said that Issac and the rest of her children have taught her more about herself and about love than anything else.

“If it wasn’t for my kids, I would have never changed or wanted to change into the person God really wants me to be,” she said.

Amanda admits she is still learning how to handle the different personality types, and about emotionally being able to handle the children asking about their biological parents.

“I’m still learning how to be okay with that,” she said, “but how awesome that I get to learn that. Not everyone gets this opportunity.”

As for the kids, they are currently learning how to raise chickens and milk goats at their country home north of Georgetown. However, the most important lesson Jon and Amanda say they are trying to teach their children is that of God’s love.

“No matter their past, future, or how they are treated by others, I want them to know they never have to doubt the love God has for them,” Amanda said. “May they always feel the security in knowing that their heavenly Father loves them.”

 By Jeannie L. Rodriguez
Photos by Sharon Strong

As seen on Turning Points Jan/Feb 2014

Feature Stories Turning Points Magazine


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 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.


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.”


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.”


By Jeannie L. Rodriguez
Photos by Jessica Scott

Austin Stone Story Team Feature Stories

Along For The Ride


Julie Latcham was on the fence. There were two weeks left until spring break, and the senior at the University of Texas needed to decide whether she would join her brother on a mission trip to Memphis, Tennessee with The Austin Stone Community Church.

She had been reading about Jesus’ heart for the poor and had felt the weight of conviction to help them. In a moment of obedience and spontaneity, Julie signed up. As her bus arrived in Memphis, little did she know the trip she had just embarked on would change the course of her life.

In Memphis, Julie’s group served with Service Over Self (SOS), a Christian nonprofit organization that seeks to glorify God through urban home repair. Julie and her team worked to rebuild, repair, and restore homes for low-income families. While working on a home, the site leader began to tell Julie about the SOS Academy, a one-year internship that trains and equips young adults for work in ministry. Julie listened, but had no intention of taking him up on the offer.

“I was thinking there was no way I’d move to Memphis,” she said. “That’s just crazy.”

Julie did not give the internship another thought until the final day of her spring break trip. Chris Tomlin’s song “God of This City” played during worship as her hands began to shake. The song had never evoked a particular response from her, but as the worship leader sang the words, her heart felt heavy for Memphis.

“It was the strongest I had ever felt the Holy Spirit,” she said. “But at the same time, I was thinking I still wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t move.”

Julie filled out a survey and indicated she was willing to find out more about the internship.  One of her pastors saw what she had written and strongly encouraged her to speak to the director of the program. After a few meetings and a lot of prayer, Julie decided to leave Austin for Memphis.

“I think I really was being challenged through that trip, learning God’s heart for the poor, reading his word and being convicted that my life had very little interaction with the poor,” Julie said. “These are the people Jesus spent time with, and my life just didn’t look like that.”

After graduating from UT, Julie began her one-year internship with a partner organization, Advance Memphis. The program focused on reaching and empowering people through different classes and resources, while helping them recognize their value in Christ. Julie helped men and women with barriers to employment by participating in the coordination of a job training course and launched a GED program for those who had never received their high school diplomas. While Julie thought her time in Memphis would be short, her work turned into a career when her boss asked her to join the full-time staff of Advance Memphis.

Julie worked in that role for four years before she felt it was time to return to Austin. She had peace, but still had questions. What would she do next?

“I kept praying about it, even before I left Memphis, for the Lord to allow me to still be involved in inner-city ministry,” she said. “I was terrified of leaving Memphis without having an idea what was next.”

When Julie returned to Austin, she ran into a friend from her first Memphis mission trip with the Austin Stone. He described the work he was doing at the For the City Network with a construction company called Unison Development. Julie learned its purpose was to create jobs and they were looking to provide training for people with barriers to employment using the Jobs for Life curriculum.

“Have you heard of it?” her friend asked.

Julie could barely container her smile, “Yeah! That’s what we used in Memphis.”

Today Julie is the Marketing and Program Coordinator for Unison Development and recently helped launch its first job training class.

“God keeps challenging me by putting me in roles that I think are far above what I think I can do. I’m definitely not the most qualified,” said Julie. “But if we’re just faithful to do the things he has called us to do, then a lot of times we’ll be surprised by the story he unfolds before us.”

By Jeannie L. Rodriguez
Photo by Nijalon Dunn

Austin Stone Story Team Feature Stories