Casa Trip Day 2: The Legend of Juan Peeblee

Posted on January 17, 2011

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Upon re-reading that last reflection, I want to make it clear to you that every American volunteer and every staff member at Casa  truly loves each of these kids. I’m nervous that my last couple of paragraphs may have sounded like no one else cared about the older boys, but that simply isn’t true. And if I had needed proof, the proof came the next morning at breakfast when some other adults joined our table, and they knew even less Español than I did. Many of them knew the kids from past mission trips to Casa, and it was great to see the kids indulge their utter and complete lack of Spanish speaking abilities the way they indulge mine. We had a funny breakfast together.

After breakfast, we had a short meeting to go over the assignments for the week with Gil Sanchez, Casa’s director. Gil and his wife Becky are Mexican-Americans from Pueblo, Colorado who grew up not knowing one word of Spanish because both of their families emphasized the importance of learning to how to speak english and how to speak it well. Gil had a tremendously successful career in The States as a city planner, economic developer, college professor, and someone who helped companies restructure and reorganize resource management- human or otherwise (even some Fortune 500 companies). He was a great speaker, too. Gil shared with us some of the ups and downs of the work that he does in very powerful, convincing ways; some of it expected, some of it heart-wrenching. It seems to me that all of his talents, skills and career stops in the US prepared him pretty well to move to Mexico twelve years ago (still not knowing a word of Spanish, mind you) to take over an orphanage that was so poorly managed that Gil called it “criminal.” This man and his wife are incredible leaders and even more incredible Christians. You can see how much the kids love them, and you have to admire the fact that Gil left such a successful career path in The States to do what he’s doing now for peanuts in some random (or perhaps not-so-random?), run-down town in northern Mexico. I had to ask myself: would I be willing to give up my career in music in The States to answer God’s call like Gil and Becky did? Yikes.

In addition to spending time loving on the kids this week, we all had some sort of project to do on the grounds. Casa sits on about 80 acres of land, and there is always something to be done by volunteers so that Gil and his staff can attend to more important matters. Some of us did handyman work, others cleaned, others painted. My assigment for the week? Organizing a storage area and a tool shed that looked as if a bomb had exploded inside of it. I wish I had taken a picture of what it looked like when I first walked into it. When my room was at its messiest as a child, it never looked ANYTHING like this. This place looked like something out of Hoarders. Kurt (the other volunteer who’s been coming to Casa as long as John has) and I had our work cut out for us. I don’t want to talk much about the work because it wasn’t very interesting (but it was definitely necessary), but I will say that for someone who makes a living up in front and in the spotlight as a conductor, it was good for me to be assigned a project that was about as far from the spotlight as you could get on the grounds. The attention that being on the podium can bring can be addictive, so it was good for me to spend a week “under the risers.” I was working in the coldest, darkest part of the facility, which I might have been tempted to complain about until Kurt told me that the storage area is where the girls’ dorms used to be. I can’t imagine a bunch of kids sleeping out there in that freezing cold space for winter after winter after winter. Thanks to people like John and Kurt, Casa now has much nicer facilities for the kids to live in that have heat in the winter and swamp coolers in the summer. John and Kurt’s fingerprints are all over this place, and I’m certain that God smiles on them for it.

At lunch, it was time to hang with the older boys some more. When they inevitably started mocking my name again (picking up where they left off yesterday), I decided to do what anyone does when they don’t have a comeback for being openly mocked: I copied their tactics. Real mature, I know…but it was just what the doctor ordered. My first attempts to screw up their names apparently weren’t very funny. They weren’t laughing, and I could hear the crickets. After lots of swings and misses, I finally connected on one. One of the boys’ names is Juan Pablo, and I called him “Juan Peeblee.” Everyone thought it was hilarious- even Juan Peeblee himself. I quickly moved it from being a taunt to being more of a term of endearment, and Juan Pablo would always shoot me a big smile whenever I called him Juan Peeblee. Progress.

Not long after I had score points with the nickname, another one of the boys accidentally spilled some water across the table with some of it landing conveniently on the crotch of another boys’ pantalones. “¿Tu necesitas usar al baño?” I said jokingly, pointing to the wet mess on his pants. That got a good laugh from them too, including from the boy who looked like he’d peed himself. Finally the ice had really been broken, and I didn’t have to pull a Billy Madison and pee on myself to break it. We enjoyed eating lunch together (the food they eat is actually REALLY good!) and tried to make more jokes in broken English and Spanish together. We also played with some toys that the kids had in their pockets (even though I don’t think we were supposed to have toys at the table…oops).

During dinner I sat with Juan Peeblee and company again, but I also noticed that there was a young boy that seemed to have already become quite attached to Emily (my wife). His name is Francisco, and I think he’s six years old. Francisco always asked Emily to sit by him at meal time and loved getting attention from her. It was so cute to watch the two of them. Someday, my wife is going to be one incredible mom.

Here are some pictures of Francisco and Emily enjoying each other’s company during the week.

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Dinner was going well at our table too, and since I guess the boys enjoyed playing with their toys at the last meal, they brought MORE toy cars, playing cards (which they got in trouble for), dinosaurs, and aliens to the table this time around. After dinner was done, we did what boys do: we made the cars go fast, we made the dinosaurs fight, and we made the alien crush the cars. Good times in any language.

After the kids went to bed, I played cards with some of the adults for a while. The card game of choice at Casa for adults is Hearts, which was perfect for me because I’ve been playing hearts on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve with my dad, my uncles, my grandpa and my cousins since I was probably ten years old. Naturally, I dominated everyone. And there was morning and there was evening: the second day.

Tomorrow: a sad story, a happy story, and a valuable spiritual lesson that could only be taught by a child who has nothing.

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Posted in: Casa Trip, Faith, Life