Friday, December 22, 2017

2017 In Review {our family's year-end newsletter...}

We believe in Christmas... 

One merely has to scroll through social media or watch TV or glance at the headlines blaring from the newspaper stands to know that our world is becoming an increasingly dark place. Wars, natural disasters, political unrest, injustice, poverty, deep fissures in faith communities, racial tensions, gender-based violence... and the list goes on and on.

These were the realities of 2017.

As Christ-followers, more so than ever, we urgently need to be "a wick to light hope in the dark."
You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. - Matthew 5:14-16, NLT.
As Ann Voskamp writes in The Greatest Gift, "When you are a wick to light hope in the dark, then you believe in Christmas. When you really believe in Christmas, you believe there is really hope for everyone."

In our own small way, our family desires to be this Jesus-light to our dark world. 

2017 highlights {the top 10, in no particular order}:

1. This year, we saw a couple of our Compassion kids leave the program because their parents are in better positions to support the families. As a result, we've welcomed two new kids to replace them: Taeng-Mo from Thailand and Justine from the Philippines (who is Alyssa's sponsor child). We've also added three children to our Compassion family: Hannah, Krevin and Jethro, who are all from the same Compassion implementing church partner located in my dad's hometown in the Philippines!

2. In the summer, Jon's speed-cubing "career" brought us all the way to London, England and Paris, France! What a treat! Our trip was well documented on Instagram under the hashtag #Esparaz2Europe!

3. Speaking of speed-cubing, Jon achieved two pretty amazing personal best solves this year: a 5.52-second solve of the 3x3 cube, which ranks him at 24th in the world and a 22.40-second solve of the 4x4 cube, which ranks 8th in the world!!!

4. Jon turned 17 this year... just where does the time go?!? He is currently buried deep in university and scholarship applications. He is hoping to go into either engineering or statistics.

5. During the latter half of the summer, we welcomed our church's 2nd Syrian newcomer family to Toronto! It has been such a gift to lead our church's refugee sponsorship committee and to walk alongside this precious family as they navigate the complexities of resettlement to a new country.

6. Alyssa is half-way through her 3rd year of International Development Studies at the University of Toronto. She is currently exploring placement opportunities as she will be embarking on an 8-12 month placement in a developing country next year.

7. In addition to being a full-time student, Alyssa manages to work part-time as Compassion Canada's Advocacy Associate. This year, she worked on the Eyes To See project which was released in September. She is also co-chair of the International Development Conference at her school. As if that's not already a full schedule, she also managed to do 25 speaking engagements over the course of this year!

8. Alyssa turns 21 in the New Year... just where does the time go?!? To celebrate this milestone birthday, she has set this audacious, bold and BIG goal—to see 21 Compassion children connected with sponsors! Family and friends, will you sponsor one of these children? Also, I'm going to be missing Alyssa's birthday this year—first time ever that I'll be missing her birthday—because I will be co-leading a Compassion Canada Pastors' Vision Trip to Nicaragua in February. So, if you choose a child from Nicaragua to sponsor, I'll be more than happy to bring them a gift from YOU! So... what are you waiting for? Click here now and help Alyssa meet her audacious, bold and BIG 21st birthday goal!!!

9. Speaking of Compassion, our family is celebrating 1150 Compassion children connected with loving sponsors here in the Greater Toronto Area in 2017 through various events and church services! We are deeply grateful for the dedicated and committed volunteers who so faithfully serve with us to grow Compassion's ministry here in the GTA. We are truly overwhelmed and incredibly humbled… we truly serve a good, good Father.

10. After more than a year of looking, researching and shopping, Floyd finally found the perfect one—a new-to-us Subaru Forester to replace our 14-year-old family van which gifted us with 307,000+ kilometres of memories starting from when Jon was only 3 years old!

As we look towards 2018, our family will seek to continue lighting this dark world and the unexpected places with a brave flame of joy; warming the cold, hopeless places with the daring joy that God is with us, God is for us, God is in us.  

Because we believe in Christmas.

From our family to yours... 
Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!

With much love + gratitude,
The Esparaz Family:
Floyd, Aimee, Alyssa and Jon

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

On Unexpected Ways God Answers Prayers...

After a long hiatus from writing, it took this #Esparaz2Europe trip to break the silence on this blog.

As I tap out these words on my iPad keyboard, we are speeding across The Channel Tunnel, a.k.a. The Chunnel, towards Paris. The Chunnel is considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the longest undersea tunnel on the globe.

My family and I just wrapped up three days of being tourists in London and two days cheering on my boy as he competed in the London Open 2017 Rubik's Cube speed-cubing competition.

In store for us in Paris are another four days of being tourists and four days of my boy competing in the 2017 World Rubik's Cube Championship.

My boy often says, "Speed-cubing is a privileged activity." I would agree with him 100% and I'm grateful that he recognizes this fact. Our privilege and wealth is certainly not lost on me, especially during this trip.

This is the first time, in many years, that we are not spending our summer vacation in a developing country visiting one of our Compassion sponsor children and immersing ourselves in their culture and way of life. These summer trips to the developing world have become a sacred form of pilgrimage for our family.

I thought twice about embarking on this trip to London and Paris.

Why? You might ask...

You see, I worried that my fickle heart would revert back into loving and craving these luxurious, self-pacifying vacations. I worried that our now beloved family tradition of summer pilgrimages to the developing world might somehow pale in comparison to this experience.

Yet, I recognize that God uses all our experiences for His glory, if only we let Him.

Before leaving home, I had a little chat with God. I asked Him to use this trip to continually open my eyes to the brokenness of this world, even in world-class cities like London and Paris.

We arrived in London last week late at night, after the long flight to Paris across the Atlantic and a lengthy delay with the Paris-London train.

When hubby googled how to take the "tube" to our hotel, he asked me: "Did you know that our hotel is right beside a mosque?" No, I didn't. We later find out that this mosque is one of the largest mosques in all of Europe!

We arrived at Whitechapel Station and proceeded to walk towards the hotel, luggages and backpacks in tow. We were definitely quite the sight... tourists! At the first stop light, while waiting to cross the street, a woman standing nearby proceeds to collapse to the ground... either drunk or high on drugs.

Upon arriving at our hotel, I spotted the mosque right away. I also noticed a facility across the street called Booth House, eerily similar in feel to Maxwell Meighen Centre back home. In fact, that entire walk from the tube station to the hotel felt eerily similar to walking along Sherbourne Street, where we do sandwich runs for the homeless back in Toronto.

With Google to the rescue again, I quickly learned that Booth House is one of the largest centres working with homeless men in London and is the largest Salvation Army centre in the entire country. I knew it, I was right about it feeling eerily similar to Maxwell Meighen Centre! 

Furthermore, Google said not to walk lengthy distances in this neighbourhood at night. Google can really scare the daylights out of you sometimes...

My mama-bear instincts kicked into high gear. In hindsight, I must confess that it was paranoia more than anything else. I hastily called a family meeting. I said: "We need to find another hotel. I don't care if we lose the money we already paid for this 6-night stay. This is not a safe neighbourhood with a homeless shelter across the street. And with the recent terror activities in London, the last place we want to be sleeping at is right beside a mosque!"

My rant was met with three bewildered stares and three logically wise minds. 

I really do thank Jesus for keeping my family's logic intact during my wildly illogical panicky moments. ;) 

They gently explained to me that the touristy places we will be visiting the next day are more of a target for terror attacks than the mosque itself. If we aren't avoiding the touristy areas, why should this be a problem? As for the homeless shelter, well... as I pointed out myself, it feels no different from Maxwell Meighen Centre back home... so why would it suddenly be scary, just because it's in London?

Gotta love my family! I quickly came to my senses and realized that I was acting like a paranoid woman.

Don't get me wrong. We did take precautions and found a better tube station to depart from/arrive at the hotel... and we took an Uber when we were returning late in the night.

I must confess that it took a while for me to fall asleep that first night. I lay awake and sensed God gently reminding me of my little chat asking Him to use this trip to continually open my eyes to the brokenness of this world, even in world-class cities like London and Paris.

Yes, that little chat! 

I had to chuckle upon realizing that this is God's way of answering my prayer. 

Really... what answer was I expecting after a prayer like that?!? 

What better way to keep my eyes open to see the brokenness of this world than a daily reminder, with each 5-minute walk from the hotel to the tube station and back, of the life that street-involved people live and of a community of people facing harsh discrimination these days.

... with each day of being tourists and seeing posh London in all of its royalty, riches and glory, then returning to the broken and battered neighbourhood where our hotel is situated.

... with each end-of-the-day walking past the open doors of the mosque and seeing evening prayers happen and being reminded of the imminent arrival of our church's second sponsored Syrian refugee family. In fact, I received a pre-arrival email notice from the Government of Canada just yesterday!

... with each day of trekking over to luxurious Canary Wharf where the speed-cubing competition venue was, then returning back to our hotel at night. I kid you not, when the light rail train pulled into Heron Quays Station, I said to my kids: "This feels a lot like arriving in The Capitol in the Hunger Games movie!"

Furthermore, my girl had the privilege and joy to share about Compassion's work with a local Filipino congregation in east-side London and, as a result, saw 12 Compassion kids released from poverty in Jesus' name.

My girl's speaking engagement was, in hindsight, another way God was answering my prayer during this trip. 

It was a reminder to me that, even during a time of vacation, God can and will continue to use us to be His hands and His feet, if only we let Him... to not only release Compassion children from poverty in Jesus' name, but also to release fellow first-world Christ-followers from the poverty of too much, in Jesus' name.

Needless to say, posh London is certainly a place where the poverty of too much is clearly evident.

It reminded me of this quote by Shane Claiborne:
When the worlds of poverty and wealth collide, the resulting powerful fusion can change the world.
On our last night in London, we casually stroll along Whitechapel Road to a local Punjabi restaurant for dinner late that night. I realized that this neighbourhood has grown on me over these last five days.

... and I quietly thanked God for taking our family on yet another summer pilgrimage, to a place where we least expected it.

He truly is a good, good Father. Perfect in all of His ways, to us.