God of the Impossible

 “Hola.  My name is Miguel, and I’m not a believer.” 

Hearing these words, I start to sweat.  Miguel and I have spent the last twenty-four hours hopscotching from Tegucigalpa to Panama to São Paulo and finally, to Curitiba, Brazil. Tomorrow, he’s supposed to start six months of intense Bible classes and missions training on a Youth with a Mission base far from home.  His journey will not be an easy one.

We have taken his new roommates to lunch, and although our conversation is a messy mix of Portuguese and Spanish, they clearly understand his meaning.

 “If you don’t believe, then why are you here?” one of them asks.

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Miguel and I arrive in Brazil.

“Well, I’ve always wanted to come to Brazil and learn Portuguese,” Miguel nonchalantly responds.  Sighing, I think to myself, “Oh Miguel, the next six months are really going to be long.”

In reality, though, Miguel’s declaration isn’t shocking. When we first met on the streets in 2010, he was twelve years old and already huffing glue and using the fumes to cloud out a lifetime of pain. And after he had lived for only three months at the Micah House, the home we run for street kids in Tegucigalpa,  his mom passed away from cancer that had been diagnosed just weeks before her death. What does a kid do with so much loss?

Becca Bell, my colleague, was Miguel’s hero during that time. She stayed by his side during his mom’s funeral and in the months ahead as Miguel came to terms with overwhelming grief as well as rid his young body and brain of dependency on yellow glue.  Surrounded by love, Miguel began to blossom, and we celebrated when he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and was baptized in October 2010.

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Above:  Miguel and Jefferson in 2016.

One of the foundational truths of the Micah Project, though, is that our boys’ healing journeys rarely travel forward in a straight line.  Often, when the boys become young adults, they have to re-process all of the trauma and loss they experienced in their childhoods, this time from a more mature perspective.  During Miguel’s senior year in high school, dark clouds gathered over his life once again. In January, one of our younger boys, Jefferson, whom Miguel dearly loved, was shot and killed—he was only fourteen.  The intense grief of losing Jefferson ripped open the still-healing scars of his mom’s death and drove Miguel back into depression, despair, and doubt.  He fell into such a low place that we worried about whether he would ever be able to emerge on the other side.

Amazingly, Miguel pushed through his last year of high school, and with lots of encouragement from Becca, signed up for the six months in Brazil.  Three weeks into his Youth with a Mission classes, however, I got a call.

   “Michael, you have to buy me a ticket to come home. This just isn’t for me.  I don’t belong here.”

“Miguel, you need to hang on. It’s always tough in a new place, especially one with a different language.”

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Above: Miguel shares at a church in Brazil.

Two weeks later, I received a very different message: “Michael, it’s amazing to see all that God is doing here!  He is truly changing lives!”  For the first time in a long time, Miguel is allowing God into some of the most damaged areas of his heart.  And, as he opens up those broken spaces, he doesn’t encounter criticism or judgment; what he finds is love.

A week later, Miguel writes: “Michael, I’ve been able to forgive so many of the hurts from my past while I’ve been here. God is so faithful.”

And a couple of weeks after that: “Michael, I’m seeing the power of prayer like I’ve never experienced it before.  Wow!  God’s love for me is SO amazing!”

What we thought was impossible, our Father was doing before our eyes.  Where despair had reigned, peace now resided; confident joy quietly replaced deep sadness.

Near the end of his time in Brazil, Miguel wrote Becca and invited her to his graduation ceremony.  Most of the Youth with a Mission students would have family present, and Miguel wanted Becca to be there. What better person to celebrate what God had done in his life than the one who had loved him unconditionally in his hardest moments! But this wouldn’t be easy since Becca was on an overseas trip with her family and would only return home, which was now in Atlanta, hours before she needed to leave for São Paulo.  But thanks to a dear friend who gave her a free United Airlines standby ticket to São Paulo, Becca was determined to attend Miguel’s graduation!

That wasn’t going to be such an easy journey, however . . .

Bleary-eyed after an overnight flight with their two squirmy preschoolers, Becca quickly re-packs her suitcase and heads back to the airport.  The problem when you fly standby, however, is that there must be an available seat on the plane.  Becca’s flight to São Paulo is full.

She texts Miguel and me the bad news.  Miguel responds: “Don’t worry about your trip! I have been praying and the Lord has told me that you will be here for my graduation!  I’ll see you soon!” 

Though I’m in Honduras and Becca is in the Atlanta airport, we send him the same message: “Miguel, there aren’t any seats on the plane. Can’t get there on time.”

Miguel writes again: “You don’t have to worry!  My friends here at Youth with a Mission and I have prayed, and God has said that you will be here for my graduation!”

Becca runs across the airport to the Delta terminal to see if she can buy a seat to Houston or Chicago and fly standby with United from there. But the flight to Chicago is canceled and the one to Houston is full.  Desperately searching online while standing at the gate, Becca sees that Delta has a direct flight leaving Atlanta for São Paulo in less than an hour with plenty of open seats, but an economy fare for the one-way flight is currently $3800.  She mentions this flight to the gate agent, while admitting that as much as she wants to attend this graduation, that price was way out of her budget.

I text Miguel: “We love you. We’re so proud of you. But Becca can’t get a flight and won’t be there.”

He writes back: “I know you’re worried, but you don’t have to be. God has told me that she will be here!” Reading his text, I wonder what this disappointment will do to his newly renewed faith.

As Becca turns to leave, the Delta gate agent says, “Ma’am, hold on for just a second.”  She starts typing on her computer terminal.

Finally, she looks up.  “You know, they give us airline employees several buddy passes every year, and I never use them all.  So write down your information for me here, and I’ll give you one of my passes for the flight to São Paulo. You need to hurry though; the flight is already boarding.”

Shocked beyond words, Becca grabs her carry-on, sprints down the terminal and is one of the last passengers to board the Delta flight to São Paulo.  She is even more surprised when she is ushered to a first-class seat, a fancy one that has its own little booth and folds into a bed. Although there was no humanly possible way to get there, Becca is on her way to Brazil. And she will be well-rested when she arrives!

When Miguel calls me with the news, I am standing outside a restaurant in Tegucigalpa where I have just finished dinner with friends. “Michael, Becca is on a flight to São Paulo!  Someone gave her another free ticket!” I start to weep. God has done the impossible. Why did I ever think otherwise?

Becca arrives at Miguel’s graduation an hour before the ceremony begins.  It is a joyful, Spirit-filled celebration of God’s incredible faithfulness to his children. And Becca is there to cheer on Miguel and to celebrate the man he has become.

Above:  Becca arrives in Brazil!

As I started to write this piece, I told Miguel that I was going to tell the story about Becca’s miraculous flight to Brazil.  He is back in Honduras now and investing time in our younger boys before he starts college in January. This is what he wrote to me: “Becca’s story reminds me that, as human beings, our way of living our lives and our view of God are just too small. He loves doing the impossible in our eyes.”

Though I have been a missionary for twenty years, sometimes I still forget that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).  Thanks, Miguel, for reminding me!  Miguel’s Heavenly Father transformed a broken, lost, addicted street kid into a man of deep, abiding faith.  He even used an anonymous Delta employee in Atlanta to show Miguel that with God, all things really are possible.

Above:  Miguel gets a lift from the other young men who live in the Micah House.


Michael Miller



My Beautiful, Broken Barrio

DSC_0695 (3)I still can’t believe this painting is hanging in the living room of my cabin at the Micah Project.  I had admired it for over two years every time I visited the studio of talented Honduran painter, Denis Berrios.  Apparently, I was dropping pretty major hints, because some friends banded together in August and bought this beautiful piece to help me celebrate my 20thanniversary in Honduras.

I ditched my TV to make room for this three-by-three-foot masterpiece.  There is something about this painting that perfectly captures the beauty and the chaos of Tegucigalpa, the city I have loved and called home for almost half my life.  The brushstrokes that created it pulsate with life. If it were possible to turn the volume up on this painting, you would hear children shouting and laughing while chasing a soccer ball down one of these hillside alleys; you would hear roosters crowing, dogs barking, and every block would have its own self-appointed DJ, some kid blasting the beat of the Latin street, reggaetón, from his family’s stereo, the nicest thing they own.

This place clings to a hillside for dear life, teetering on a razor’s edge of survival.  But how resilient its people are!  So many Hondurans I know are creative, tough, optimistic, persevering people who have figured out how to make it despite never knowing exactly how they will scrape up enough money to survive through the end of the week. They are poor, but they always find a way–to use a favorite Honduran phrase–to salir adelante:  to keep pushing life forward.

That is, until they don’t.  It is easy to sentimentalize poverty, especially for those of us who don’t have to navigate its too-narrow and often-blocked  pathways that lead to a place where its residents go to bed at night having done all they can to survive one more day.

But there are sounds in this place that are hidden in the romanticized version of the painting.  In that pink house high up on the hill, three toddlers cry because they and their burning stomachs will go to bed without dinner.  In the brown house next to the church, an anguished mother recites the rosary for her teenaged son who has joined the drug trade because it is the only future he can see for himself.  Carpenters and welders and bricklayers drunkenly smash empty beer bottles off that swinging bridge as they try to drown out the fact that for every thousand carpenters in this city only one carpentry job is currently available.

And there is gunfire; oh man, is there ever.  Gangs rule this place with a heavy hand, and funeral processions down this mountain to the cemetery are much more frequent than paychecks in most of these homes.  Many of these houses used to have small shops in their living rooms, little pulperias that sold everything from plantain chips to cigarettes to shampoo.  They are mostly boarded up now; the owners couldn’t afford to pay the “war tax”—a stylized phrase for a shakedown—to the gang members that came to collect at the end of every week with pistols stuffed into their belts.

And something else hangs over this place, a quiet, dense layer of loss.  Though life here is people on top of people on top of people, this place is a little emptier than it used to be.  And that’s not only because of those who lost their lives to violence, though almost every person here carries a heaviness in his or her heart because of a loved one who met a violent death.  There are other stories of loss that, while not as permanent, still leave that painful emptiness.

There’s Juanita’s son David, who used to drive a taxi until the gang burned it to ashes because he couldn’t pay the war tax.  He and his wife packed a few things into backpacks, grabbed their newborn and fled one night without a trace.  And there is the house up the street that sits empty; the Ramirez family ran when their son turned twelve and became a ripe target for gang recruitment.  Suddenly, dozens of empty houses exist in this one neighborhood, which seems to have lost some of its vibrant color as families and neighbors united for decades have faded away.

Where do Hondurans go when they flee?  Their journeys have been frontpage news for a couple of years now, and they have become major talking points in the political wars that attempt to divide us into angry bands of red and blue.  I am not going to wade into that fight.  My main mission in life, providing a new life to kids living on the streets, consumes every ounce of energy, passion and intellect I have—and then some.  It doesn’t leave a lot of brain power for politics.

Above: Jefferson and I in 2016.

But let me tell you one more story:  I lost my Jefferson in a neighborhood like this one.  He had lived at the Micah House through most of 2015 and 2016, and I loved him like a son.  But because he was born on the streets to a mentally-ill prostitute, he never fully understood the inner workings of human attachment, and he never had an internal mechanism to help him know what it meant to be loved.   He would ask me almost every day, “Michael, am I doing ok today?  Am I behaving?”  Usually, he wasn’t in the least, but I would always say, “Yeah, Jeff, you’re doing okay. We love you and we’re so proud that you’re here.”

Jefferson’s struggles took him back to the streets in late 2016.  And last year, when he was only fourteen, one of the gangs kidnapped him, took him to a neighborhood just like the one in this painting, and executed him.  The next day, we collected his body from the morgue to bury him.  To the very end, he was a desperate, broken soul, doing what he could to survive before the situation on the streets made that impossible.

I am not saying that fleeing Honduras would have saved Jefferson.  In fact, another boy that lived in our home for several years, Marvincito, died on the border of Guatemala and Mexico in 2016 trying desperately to flee the same violence that killed Jefferson.  So please believe me when I say that I understand the terrible consequences of fleeing your country on foot.  But in the depth of my very broken heart, I also understand the reasons that many choose to do so.

I look at my painting one more time, at this beautiful, broken barrio.  And I know one thing for sure: God knows each of these houses as if it were His own; He knows who was born in each one and who died well before their time or in the fullness of their years. He knows the intimate details of the lives in the green one, and that lopsided yellow one, and even in that little grey home perched all the way up on top of this mountain of human souls.  He knows each of their names because they are written on his heart.

They are Juanita and David.  They are Jefferson and Marvincito.  They are His children, known by Him to the greatest depth of their souls and loved by Him with a fierce, Fatherly love that has no starting point and no final limit.  And though we live in a world where there are no easy answers to human suffering, we too, as God’s sons and daughters, can start and end with love.

Michael Miller