“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3, 4 NIV
When Michael and Celeste Peters and their three daughters arrived at Casa Hogar Alegre orphanage in Chiapas Mexico, something was wrong. They came with 25 others from Mission Hills Community Church. Every year for more than a decade, the church team has been met by the jubilant faces of the children that live there. But not this time.
“When we drove on the property,” Celeste said, “we could sense something was different, it seemed that the whole place was depressed.” Elizabeth Castelazo, “Mama Liz”, the orphanage director, took the Mission Hills team aside as soon as they arrived.
Each year around Thanksgiving, Mission Hills’ families roll out a carefully planned program filled with games and Bible studies, music, crafts and sports for the community of nearly 100 kids at the Casa. “These kids are mostly abused or abandoned, or can’t be cared for by their economically challenged parents,” says Michael. The Orange County, CA church provides a week of nurturing activities and fun for the orphans, and much needed respite for the staff of Casa Alegre.
So when Mama Liz carefully described why the children’s downcast glances and shuffling feet met the visitors at the gate, it became even more obvious that God’s timing was, as usual, perfect.
Casa Alegre means “house of joy” in Spanish. The orphanage was founded by Mama Liz in 1993 when she began to care for local abandoned children in her own home. Back then Paul Northrup’s efforts through GRM paved the way for churches like Mission Hills to participate in ministry with Mama Liz. Just before this team arrived in November, a few of the older kids snuck off the property without permission… and encouraged some of the younger ones to join them. If there’s anything Mama Liz takes seriously it’s the safety of the children. And so… everyone was on “restriction” for disciplinary reasons. Nobody was happy about it.
The Mission Hills team moved into action. Careful, gentle conversations with each of the children. Holding a hand here, a hug there. Slowly, small signs of joy became evident in the faces of the children.
A few days later, the team discussed an idea for next year’s visit with Mama Liz. “We were thinking they might like to go camping,” they told her. Before they could present the details, Liz enthusiastically announced they would do it… in three days. Tents and sleeping bags were acquired in town, food prepared and 40 of the children, along with staff and team families, went camping for the first time in their lives. Celeste said, “They were in heaven, climbing trees, catching fish, singing around a campfire and giggling in the tents when they should have been sleeping.” It was a kid’s dream come true.
The week finished much differently than it had begun. After they returned, a huge water balloon fight, another simple tradition the Mission Hills team started five years ago, removed any doubt that God had put the “alegre” (joy) back into the Casa.
When all was said and done and the kids, staff and church team shared one final worship service together, many of the kids that had broken Mama Liz’s trust asked her forgiveness. Tears. God’s timing. Simple grace. Forgiveness. Does it get any better than that?
– Written by Lou Douros, a friend of GRM and hopeful future visitor to Casa Alegre.