Thursday, April 18, 2013

broken, bruised, and battered

                I was at a loss for words the first time I heard the story.  The siblings I had just met who were so full of life and laughter had seen things I could never imagine.  Their father had abandoned them long before they knew him, their mother struggled to support them, and finally she had given up hope and abandoned them too.  These sweet children were found chained to the wall of the hut they called home starving.  It wasn’t clear how many days they had been tied up, but it was long enough that these tiny, malnourished toddlers had resorted to consuming their own feces. 

I was in shock.

This beautiful safe-haven I was visiting for the first time I no longer saw as simply a mission of love…this was a mission of need.  These children needed someone to save them, to find them, to fight for them.  This was the first time I can remember the blood rushing through my veins and the passion building up.  My flushed face grew tense and sad and I knew that something had to be done that was bigger than saving one child just to continue the cycle of poverty and abuse.  This country needs social justice reform.  They need social services to protect women and children like the Department of Children and Families does here in America.  It needs a completely reformed educational system so that they are not continuously mass producing citizens with less than a 6th grade education. 

Drugs, gangs, violence, rape, murder, abuse.  This country has it all. 

What this country needs is support.  It needs help.  The poor in Honduras don’t have what America’s impoverished and homeless have.  Yes, poverty in America is terrible and it is so unjust.  But what America is doing about it is good.  After working at Catholic Charities as an intern this past year, I have seen a lot of sad situations and a lot of very poor people.  What I have learned is that I am not only proud to be an American, but proud of my government for what it’s trying to do.  It will never be perfect and the system can always do more, but at least it’s doing what it can.

Hondurans do not have this luxury.  The government is corrupt.  The rich grow richer and the poor grow more desperate.  If it weren’t for non-profits and religious organizations supporting them with the limited social services they are able to, their situation could be much worse than it is. 

The sad part is, the story of the chained up siblings is not uncommon at all. Nearly all of the children at the Farm of the Child have been sexually abused and beaten at some point in their childhood.

First experiencing the love of God
seated in a Franciscan Sister's lap
This is the girl who first showed me how to climb trees in Honduras. 
She showed me how to use a machete like a true Honduran to crack open my coconuts.
She took my hands and asked me to dance in the rain. 
To enjoy every moment of down time we had together. 
To laugh at myself and to learn from mistakes (which were mostly made with my poor Spanish).

This happy, glowing child was found abandoned in a basket floating down a river as a new born baby.  The woman who found her took her home.  She was subject to much neglect and abuse during the time she was taken in and at the age of three was brought to the Farm of the Child looking like the first picture above.  At three years old, she weighed 12lbs, had no ability to walk, was extremely malnourished, and had numerous rashes and a severe chest infection.  By the grace of God she survived and has grown much since then.  She is a fighter and a survivor. 

Happy, healthy, and growing more and more every day!
It is children like this little girl who have taught me about God’s mercy and love.  I feel sometimes like I have nothing to give these kids. I don’t know what to say to them.  I have never experienced anything close to what they have.  I feel all I can do is hold them.  But I want to fight for them.  I want to go into the depths of this poor country and find those other toddlers, babies, and young kids who have no hope of being found.  I want to bring some sort of justice to the neglect, abuse, and abandonment of these beautiful children who I love more than my heart can bear. 

I wish I could express more of the passion to you that I feel for this mission. With each child at the Farm comes a deep, dark past of abuse, neglect, and profound hurt that they will have to deal with their whole lives.   

This mission is not only one of love and of need, but one of hope. 

The Farm of the Child is a mission dedicated to giving these children new lives, services to assist them in coping with their unimaginable pasts, and a faith to stay with them forever.  This mission can change the very foundation of the country by educating and supporting these little, lost sons and daughters.  The work will be slow and perhaps we will not see the full outcome in our lifetime, but it is a step in the right direction.  It is a much needed step to help guide this third-world nation out of poverty, out of corruption, and out of a lack of respect for human life. 

God doesn’t call us to stay comfortable and help the needy who are easy to help.  He demands we go out and save those who have no hope of salvation.  They are His sons and daughters too. 

Every year, missionaries from all over the country dedicate their lives to this fight.  They give up everything they know for 2 ½-3 ½ years and serve these kids to the best of their ability.  They want to inspire, teach, help, hold, and love everyone they can during their time.  They typically do not expect to grow, be inspired, be taught, be helped, and be held as well during their time down there, but that’s surprisingly what tends to happen when you’re serving in God’s kingdom. 

My heart literally aches for these children as I try to think about and feel their pain.  My heart yearns to serve them and love them and help give them a better life.  I take comfort in knowing that what I am giving up in my life at home in the States is well worth it, as much as that may hurt as well.  It is like the story of the rich man in the Gospel of Mark:

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”  He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. –Mark 10: 17-22

I have many possessions.  I have friends, family, and communities that I care very deeply for and it hurts to think of what I will be giving up by leaving them behind for 2 ½ years of my life.  It is not easy.  I don’t expect myself to ever fully accept that what I am doing will be easy because my heart is torn.  It yearns for those children and to save those broken, bruised and battered little ones who have not yet been found. And it aches for my family and for my dear friends who love and support me unconditionally.  But when God calls you somewhere, it is not something you can easily ignore. 

I am not saying that we are all called to do something this drastic with our lives.  By all means, God has a special plan for each and every one of us and if we choose to ask what it is, do not doubt that He will respond.  The reality is that not everyone can take 2 ½ years out of their lives to leave everything behind and serve these little ones.  But if you feel called to support those who can today or to commit to praying for the missionaries and the children of the Farm of the Child you would be contributing to not only the love and support of these abused, neglected, abandoned children, but supporting the future of an underdeveloped nation.  The reality is that these kids are the future generation of Honduras.  Any sort of effective and foundational social reform starts with them.    

“Do not wait for leaders.  Change the world one person at a time.” –Mother Teresa

If you feel called to donate at this time, please click this secure PayPal link.  
Thank you for your support!!

Monday, April 15, 2013

¡Bienvenidos a la Finca!

A closer look at life on the Farm of the Child (La Finca del NiƱo)

The Finca’s Daily Prayer

I pray for the following:
Lord Jesus, protector of orphans and all who depend on you, 
as we begin this day we turn our hearts towards you. 
We give thanks for the gift of your great love 
and for the chance to serve you in all that we do today. 
We ask that your grace and mercy be poured out on our beloved Farm of the Child, 
on our children, on our house parents, on our Franciscan sisters, 
on our volunteers past, present, and future, on our board members, 
on our support personnel, on our benefactors, 
and on all whom we serve in Honduras 
through our various ministries. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How to Donate

Thanks to all your love and support, my mission fund is full and will help support me and my impact on the Farm during my 28 month service.

Want to continue supporting the Farm? Here's a new simple way!
 Just shop on Amazon smile and choose Farm of the Child as your Charity. At no cost to you, Amazon will send 5% of what you spend to the Farm of the Child.  

The Farm of the Child is an IRS501(c)3 organization.   
All donations are TAX DEDUCTIBLE.
For your convenience, below are two easy options for making your donation:

1. Donate with a credit card through the secure PayPal link here:  DONATE NOW

2. Donate by mail:
Farm of the Child
1616 Nottingham Knoll Drive
Jacksonville, FL32225
3. Sponsor a Child

Our Sponsor a Child program is a unique opportunity for both sponsor and child. Sponsors are invited to share, not only monetary donations that go entirely to support the children, but to become a part of their sponsored child’s life on the Farm or in the school through bi-annual letters. Support of $50 per month for a Farm child, and $25 per month for a School child, helps defray the costs of raising and/or educating a child in a secure and loving environment. Your child is provided with a family of foster parents and other children; with a school which provides a high standard of Catholic education; with a beautiful church and religious formation; with a clinic and medical attention.

Thank you for your support!

Yadira, our resident 3 year old minion.
She loves big hugs, days at the beach, and all things "mio".

Missionary Budget

Farm of the Child
                                                 Sample Missionary Fundraising Budget
                                                         August 2013 – December 2015

Airplane Tickets (travel to and from Central America and one trip to the U.S. during each year of service) - $2,700

Language School (transportation from Guatemala City airport, eight weeks of one-on-one classes, the cost of living with a host family, and transportation from Guatemala to Honduras) - $1,800

Travel from language school to the Farm - $200

Health Insurance (for emergencies abroad) - $300/year

Residency Costs (cost to secure extended Honduran residency permit beyond the standard 90-day visa issued to tourists) - $150

Personal Stipend ($300 for every 3 months) - $2,700

Retreats - $200

Vacation Stipend ($250 for each year of service) - $500

Transition Stipend ($500 for each year of service to facilitate transition back to the United States at the end of my commitment) - $1,000

Re-entry Retreat ($900 cost of retreat + travel) - $1,500

                           Total Budget for 28-Month Volunteer Commitment Goal ~ $12,000

Any funds raised that go beyond what I actually spend will go directly to aid and assist projects at the Farm.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Mission of Love

          My name is Tiffany Ross and I am so excited to share this experience with you all so thanks for visiting!  For those of you who don’t know me, I’ll let you know a little about who I am before explaining why I’ve chosen to serve at the Farm.  Well, I am (nearly) a graduate of Florida State University and have worked as an intern this last year at Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida in the Refugee Department.  I am a family girl and make it a point to always make them a priority in my life. I’ve studied Spanish for a long time and watched more telenovelas than I’d care to admit. I’m a passionate Catholic and I firmly believe in the power of sharing God’s mercy and love through actions rather than words.  In high school I aspired to become an accomplished actress, loved performing on stage, and sang with my mom and the Lifeteen band at Church every Sunday.   Since then, my dreams have changed (as they often do growing up) and I’ve realized that my heart is the most content when I’m loving others and sharing in their beautiful, broken lives.  

I moved to Florida with my family in 2004 when I was in the 7th grade and that’s when I first heard about the Farm of the Child.  Zulena Pescatore—a founder of the mission—came to my school with her daughters to speak about the Farm of the Child and, at the time, it didn’t mean much to me.  It was later on that my family decided to go on a mission trip with our Church to visit this beautiful place and experience for ourselves God’s grace in an underdeveloped nation.  I had just graduated from high school the first time we went and it changed my life completely.  We went again the next year and it was after that trip that I realized how much of my heart I had left with those children.  I applied to go the next summer as a short-term missionary and it only increased my desire to serve there.  I want to share this beautiful mission with you today and, hopefully, continue to share with you in this journey over the next 28 months.  Right now I’d love to tell you a little about the Farm of the Child, how it functions, and who it serves. 

Near a small town on the luscious tropical coast of Honduras, there is a Catholic orphanage.  It is a beautiful place that was started by a man named Vincent Pescatore.  He left his corporate American job at a young age to answer a call to do mission work in Guatemala where he started the original Farm of the Child orphanage and met his wife.  Later on he decided to spread the work to Honduras and bought a plot of land right by the coast.  All he had to start were a few Franciscan Nuns, the support of his wife and five young, beautiful children, and a few very ambitious college graduates from the States.  Because of tension with the Honduran government, it was only safe to build at night, so that’s what they did.  There’s no denying the fact that there were many road blocks at the beginning of this beautiful mission, but Pescatore never let that discourage him.  Sadly, on January 3 at the age of 35, Pescatore and his brother-in-law passed away in a plane crash right by the Farm.  They were bringing in supplies and got caught in a storm that sent them straight towards the mountain side.  Despite this tragedy, the Pescatore family and the missionaries did not let that stop the mission.  If anything, it gave them more of a reason to fight for it.

The Farm of the Child has been effectively educating, housing, providing for, and loving orphans and young children in surrounding villages for nearly 17 years.  Today it is run mostly by American and Nicaraguan missionaries, the wonderful Franciscan Sisters, and Ysmary Trejo, the onsite director.  They have the 2nd best Catholic school in the country on the Farm’s property, providing education for grades K-8.  Each grade has its own classroom and the middle school, more recently built, has 4 rooms including a computer lab (which functions well despite the frequent power outages).  The school is separated from the soccer field and communal homes by a beautiful chapel that has been dedicated to Vincent Pescatore, which overlooks the entire orphanage.  

Looking down the hill from the chapel is the beautiful Caribbean Sea.  Close by is a clinic that provides service for the local villages a few times a week run by American missionaries who are trained Nurses.  The missionaries make it a priority to teach the locals about living a healthy lifestyle in all aspects of raising children as well as taking care of their own bodies, which is very important considering most of the people in Honduras have never had the opportunity to be educated past the 6th grade.  

The rest of the campus consists of small, family style homes for the orphans, missionaries, and Nuns.  Each house for the children is set up with Honduran “house parents”. The children are split up by gender and age levels.  For example, boys who are newborn babies up to ages 4 or 5 would live in the St. Joseph house.  It creates a safe environment for these children and sets a great example of how a loving family works, lives, and loves each other, giving each child hope for a better future when they grow up and have a family of their own.  

The missionaries live in one house together right on the beach next to the Convent.  They do all sorts of jobs needed on the Farm.  Many of them are teachers at the school and Social Workers helping the children in whatever ways needed. Some of them are also outreach coordinators, nurses, psychologists, and maintenance/ security directors.  A few years back the maintenance crew completed building a big, thick fence with barbed wire at the top that runs around the entire Farm which will help ensure the safety of all those who live, work, worship, play, and go to school there.  They also have a night staff that patrols the fence and gate at night.  My mother swears God has put a bubble over that place.  No matter what kind of horrible things are going on in the country or what kind of desperation locals may be driven to out of poverty,  the Farm seems to be and to have always been protected.  

I have been so blessed to play with, work with, and truly get to know these kids the past few summers.  They are so happy, so full of life, and in so much need of stability.  They truly opened my heart to this mission.  It is very evident how much these children desire true, authentic, and unconditional love. So, when you form a bond of trust with them, they welcome you with open arms…and don’t ever want to let go.  I remember one boy, Carlos, who just loved hugs.  He was around 6 or 7 years old, but that boy was a tank and very athletic.  He just loved piggy back rides, being swung around, and running, jumping hugs.  I could barely catch him every time, but the love he had to share was simply something I couldn’t reject.  He also enjoyed chasing the girls around with little crabs he found and a hose whenever he could get his hands on one.  Then there was his friend Roni who was a little comedian.  That boy had a joke for everything and was all smiles and laughter all the time.  Nelsi, one of the girls about 7 or 8, taught me how she climbed the trees to pick fruit in her backyard.  She wanted to show me that girls like us could really be as strong as the boys.  Nelsi knew how to swing a machete and dig a trench like a pro and didn’t mind showing you how well she could do it.  But, as soon as the storms came, she had no problem dropping everything and grabbing my hands to go dance in the rain.  

Celebrating Mass with the neighbors
at a local villagers home

My special friend Belgia

At the Quincinera of the Farm!
(15th anniversary celebration)

praise and worship with the girls

A dear friend from up the mountain
in Buena Vista

the kids after Sunday Mass

my little sister Sigri
Sigri, another girl around age 16, was simply one of a kind.  Because of the abuse she went through as a child, her mind-set was not on the level of other girls her age. Despite that fact, she was bright, bubbly, loud, and full of energy and sarcasm.  She and I seemed to have formed a pretty tight relationship.  She would make fun of me for my gringo Spanish, but always referred to me as her sister.  She always had something funny or smart-alecky to say, but man did we get a kick out of each other.  Leaving her the second summer was much harder than I expected.  The tough girl attitude she put on to protect herself from rejection fell away as she cried on my shoulders not wanting to let me go.  In that long, drawn out, teary good-bye, I promised her I’d be back soon enough.  I am so proud to say that the promise I made to her those years ago I will be able to keep.

The summer I spent as a short-term missionary was much different than I expected.  I had much more responsibility than I anticipated.  It was also different because I was not only living there, but also cleaning, cooking, and learning the lifestyle of the Honduran people and the missionaries.  I worked a lot with the Franciscan Sisters on projects for the orphans and the local villagers; I brought my guitar and all the Spanish worship music I could get my hands on.  Essentially, that summer was a great opportunity for me to discern this kind of missionary work.  While it was a tough learning curve, it was beautiful and life-giving. 

The Honduran people have truly stolen my heart with their love, their faith, their simplistic lifestyle, and their culture.  I am so incredibly blessed to have been given this opportunity to grow deeper in my faith and to learn more about myself and I am so happy to be able to share it with you.  I want to ask you for your prayers for the Farm of the Child and for the other missionaries that will also be preparing their hearts and fundraising this summer. In the wise words of an Italian nun I once met, “pray for money, for it is a necessary evil.”  So, if you find it is within your means to help me with donations, even if it is only a little, it would truly benefit this cause because I cannot go without the proper funds.   If you would like to donate now, please click.this safe PayPal link.  

 Thank you for your interest in this mission and for your time!