I’ve been calling Casa Kiwi my Colombian home for the past nineteen months, but the story started awhile before that. Living here has been.. shall we say.. challenging for me, yet I know that I know that I know that it was God who led me here, and so I’ve stayed. Through fire & waves & valleys of the shadow of death, I’ve stayed in obedience to a God whose Fierce Love has won my heart & my trust. The practice of remembering how God called me here has served as a way for me to remind myself that my presence here is no accident, even when it really feels like a train wreck. Kind of like the Israelites building alters to God in the desert, or celebrating the passover… marking & remembering times when God has been faithful helps to keep on remembering it.
So here we go.
I was twenty years old, it was Springtime 2010 when I first ever saw the words “Casa Kiwi.” I read them on facebook, in something an acquaintance had written. She was a girl I’d met in Mexico who was somewhere in Colombia, and when I saw those words “Casa Kiwi” they STUCK with me. Ever since I was a little girl I’d dreamed of having an orphanage in Mexico, and I’d played around with lots of ideas of what I’d want it to be called. So I remember telling my friend Vince, “Wouldn’t Casa Kiwi be such a good name for an orphanage?!” It was such a fun, silly name, and I so I tucked it into my memory.
It was 2011, a year later, when I attended a YWAM school to be trained in things pertaining to “Children At Risk.” One of our first teachers was a Colombian man, Steve Bartel, who came to share with us about the ministry he was leading in Bogota: Formando Vidas. What stuck with me about the ministry was their vision to restore children back into their First Families, and also the “family style” way of raising the children in their care. The ministry had several houses, which would typically hold between 8-12 kids at a time, in order to give them a family, and not just a place to live where their emotional & spiritual needs would go unnoticed amongst the masses.
Later that year there would be times that were very difficult for me in Mexico, when me & a leader didn’t see some important things in the same way, and those differences were very hard for me to live with. They were deal breakers for me, really. I remember being really upset one day, praying and thinking, “It wouldn’t be like this in Colombia” ( yeah. WOW. ) I wanted to visit Formando Vidas in Colombia, to see & learn how they did things. I was certain it was the *perfect* ministry.
After that, later on in 2011, I was in Chile, doing another YWAM school. On one of the first days after I arrived I was chatting with a Colombian classmate, and she told me that she had grown up in the Formando Vidas ministry. Wow, I thought, that’s such a beautiful coincidence. Soon after that I met a guy who had spent time working in Formando Vidas, who’s sister was a foster Mama in one of the houses there. After all of that I was really sure I wanted to visit Colombia!
While I was in Chile I knew God was asking me to stay in missions, even though I had different plans. It was something I just knew, something I could feel in my spirit. At that point I wasn’t willing to go back to Mexico. I missed my girls so much but I just couldn’t go back to those same deal-breaker issues, I knew I wouldn’t be able to last. So I started researching ministries. I looked into ministries doing aftercare for victims of human trafficking, ministries in Asia, ministries in Africa, ministries in Latin America, but ultimately… ministries doing orphan care. I ended up at the Formando Vidas website, and as I looked deeper there I was shocked when I saw the name of one of their foster homes:
Whaaa??!!?!! I didn’t see that one coming! I held it prayerfully, in open hands, not knowing where God desired for me to be but being so willing to go anywhere, do anything, for Him. One morning before breakfast I was sitting on a swing, asking God “Is it Formando Vidas??” I went into the dining hall and as I was walking through the maze of tables & chairs & Latinos I heard someone say “…Formando Vidas.” I whirled around, shocked, and there was that guy I’d met who had worked in Formando Vidas. He caught me staring at him, my eyes all wide & scared, and I told him that I’d just been praying about that ministry. Later he found me to give me some more information about Formando Vidas, and one of the things he handed me was his sister’s prayer card. It was a picture of two women & six children on a swing set, and it said:
You would think it would have been obvious to me by then, but it wasn’t, ahaha. I decided I wasn’t going to think about it anymore, I wasn’t going to look at the website anymore, I was just going to chill out and wait and see if God kept speaking. One day I went to the base’s coffee shop to get online but the internet was being fixed so I sat down at a table to wait. There was a lone magazine laying on the table, so I picked it up and started reading. It was a story about a little girl who lived on the streets of Bogota, Colombia. Interesting, I thought, but it wasn’t until I began reading things that sounded very familiar that I realized the article was all about Formando Vidas.
“Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.” I was freaking out, but I still thought it could all just be strange coincidences, so I just kept trying to keep calm. But a few days later, I walked into my counseling school classroom to find that same Formando Vidas guy there instead of our teacher. He was there to give a presentation on Formando Vidas. He shared a video of one of the areas of the ministry. There are LOTS of different areas in the ministry, but the video? It was about..
That’s when I knew. That’s when I knew that Formando Vidas was definitely where God was calling me. That’s when the “Oh my goodness” ‘s started again, along with an out of control heartbeat and some crazy tears. God was speaking, I knew it, so I listened.
A whole year went by before I packed up my things to move to Colombia, and I honestly had no idea where God wanted me to be during my time here. I could have become a teacher in our school, or worked in the more evangelistic areas of the ministry, or work in one of the foster homes. I had no idea. During my first weeks here I decorated my prayer journal, collage style, with a mish-mash of colors I’d been collecting from catalogs. I just wanted it colorful, I didn’t really pay attention to the images I was pasting on. I visited all the areas of the ministry, but not really hearing anything from God about where I was to be working. I had a meeting with the leadership team and told them that I just wanted to work where it would be most helpful for me to be, but they didn’t let me know where that would be. I got on a plane to spend Christmas in Mexico and it was while I was up in the air, flying away from Colombia, that God told me where I was going to be working. He spoke to me through my collage, actually. I looked down at my prayer journal, and for the first time I realized what it was that I had pasted right there on it’s cover:
And I knew. When I got back to Colombia I never even shared with my leaders what God had spoken to me on that plane, I didn’t need to. They had been praying and they sent me to live in Kiwi House before I even had a chance to tell them that it’s where I was supposed to be.
The past nineteen months have been so painful, so difficult. I’ve been missing my daughters something fierce, that’s been the most of it. But also I’ve learned the hard way that no ministry is perfect. Formando Vidas is beautiful, the ministry seeks to honor God in every decision that is made.. but we are humans, and we make mistakes, and we hurt each other and offend each other and often don’t know how to make things right. It’s just the way it is. There have been no deal-breakers here (& the ones in Mexico have since been resolved) but it’s still been very painful.. Good, but painful. God has refined me, sent me through a blazing hot fire, but I’m so thankful for the ways in which I’ve been changed & strengthened.
Nine days ago I sat down with my beloved Casa Kiwi children to let them know that I will soon be leaving. They were shocked, I just cried and cried and cried because as hard as these years have been and as ready as I am to leave… they are my children, whom I love so much, and whom I will forever carry close to my heart. There is a time for everything, Evi said to them that night. There is a time for everything, and what I find myself saying to God these days is, Thank you God, for this time that has been…