“Michael, I want you to meet my girlfriend’s family.  Will you come to her birthday party at their house next week?”

When Julio asked me to accompany him, his face revealed that paradoxical, yet wonderful, mix of shyness and fearlessness, which was his trademark. This was the same face that I always saw whenever he gave me one of his paintings.  One Christmas, he presented me with a larger-than-life charcoal portrait of me that had taken him months to complete, in secret.  The day that he invited me to his girlfriend’s home, he had that same look, as if to say, “I run the risk of being rejected, but I love you enough to take that risk.”   

Of course, I said yes to his offer to meet his girlfriend’s family.  After all, he was the only Micah boy bold enough to extend such an invitation in our almost twenty years of existence!  I’m not sure who was more nervous as we drove to her house that evening in 2018: the 17-year-old who wanted his adoptive dad to meet his girlfriend’s family or his adoptive dad himself.  As we walked into their home, however, her extended family welcomed us with open arms.  I could sense the sincere affection that they had for Julio.

Julio and Michael off to meet his girlfriend’s family in 2018.

Julio called me his viejo—his old man.  For my birthday in May 2019, he sang a song to me in front of the entire Micah family.  With that same combination of “shy boldness,” he sang: 

You took us by the hand and were always there for us.

Helping us dream of a better future and forming us

I had felt abandoned, but you were a shining light for me

When I got lost you went out to look for me

And you never left me.

(Link to Julio’s song:  https://vimeo.com/micahprojecthonduras/juliosings).

The truth is, Julio did get lost for a season.  In 2015, a street gang gunned down his older brother, Axel. Axel was 19.  In 2008, he was a much-loved member of the Micah House, and although we fought hard to keep him, eventually, he returned to the streets. Axel’s violent death broke all of our hearts, but no more so than his younger brother, Julio’s.

In Julio’s words:

In 2015, it had been about a year since I had seen mybrother Axel when one day he appeared at the gate of the Micah Project. I was so happy to see him even though I knew he was living in the streets. He made me promise that I wouldn’t leave the Micah Project until I graduated from high school. He said that he loved me a lot and he didn’t want me to end up on the streets like him.  The following week, I was at soccer practice when someone from Micah showed up to tell me that my brother Axel had been shot and killed. They took me from the soccer field over to the funeral home. When they brought his casket in and I saw him, I never imagined that I would see him like that. I ran out of the funeral home screaming, and I pounded my fists against the wall of the funeral home. I felt sad, and I felt hate, and I didn’t know what to do. It was like every time I began to feel happy, something came along to destroy us all over again. 

After what happened to my brother, I wanted to find something that would fill me, but I couldn’t find what that might be.  I felt desperate and I began to consume drugs again.  I just felt completely destroyed.  I started taking art classes to try to distract myself, but I still felt lost.  

Julio’s testimony, which he wrote in 2019.
Julio, right, with his brother Axel when Axel was living at the Micah House.

Had I been in Julio’s shoes, there’s a good chance that years of abuse, trauma, and loss would have turned me into a bitter, vengeful person. But Julio emerged from that dark period stronger, more loving, and more determined to make the world a better place. The last few months of his life, he quietly lifted up the entire Micah family by the fierce loyalty and hope-filled love that colored everything he did.  

Ever since Julio died in a motorcycle accident last January, I’ve been left with a question: How much good could Julio have done had he not died at age 21?  His life feels brutally unfinished.

Christian writer Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote Lament for a Son when his twenty-five-year-old son died in a mountain-climbing accident. Even though Wolterstorff never lost his belief in Christ’s resurrection and eternal life, his faith did not magically erase his profound grief.  What hurt so much?  He writes:

Yet he is gone, here and now, he is gone; now I cannot talk with him, now I cannot see him, now I cannot hug him, now I cannot hear his plans for the future.  That is my sorrow. 

Wolterstorff, 31

While writing this piece, I heard a little voice on the front patio of my cabin.  Pedro, one of our grads, had arrived at Micah for his morning cup of coffee.  But outside, that little voice said, “Miiichael, there is a princess here to visit you!” I’m supposed to respond, “Princess?  I don’t see a princess anywhere! I heard that Princess Tana flew off to her castle on her magic dragon!”  Pedro’s three-year-old daughter, Tana, giggled as she bounded through my door for a hug.

Like Pedro, Julio would have been a great dad. In one of the few pictures I have of his childhood, he is sitting on a bed in the motel room that his mom rented day-to-day to keep them off the streets.  Look closely and you can see a bruise in the shape of a hand-print on his face—yet another sign of a violent childhood.  But Julio would have triumphed over generations of familial poverty and abuse. He would have raised his kids to be world-changers.

Julio gets a kiss from his niece, Axel’s daughter, Caroline.

I also wish that I could have seen what kind of artist Julio would have become.  He was naturally talented and had worked on his craft. He was a good painter; he could have become a great painter, given more time. I have several of his paintings hanging on the wall of my office at the Micah House.  One of them, though, remains unfinished. He was working on a painting of a colonial church, like the churches you see in every Honduran mountain village.  He had been using a new technique, and he couldn’t get “it” quite right.  He put the painting aside for a while, always meaning to return to it.  He never did.

Julio’s unfinished painting.

Every day, I grieve for Julio’s unfinished life.  Yet, as the days go by, the taste of that grief becomes less bitter and a little sweeter.  The precious memories still come with tears, but more and more, they bring the warmth of the continuing bonds of love that we share.

Our Savior pronounced “It is finished”  when he died on that cross.  His death-defeating sacrifice ushered our way into a kingdom in which there would be no more tears, no more sorrow, no more children doomed to the tragedy of an unfinished life (see Isaiah 65: 23).  Theologian N.T. Wright has a beautiful theory about how it will look when we inherit the new heavens and the new earth.  He writes:

You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are…accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation . . . all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.

N.T. Wright, 208

I cherish the thought that God will use Julio’s love of painting and color and beauty to flood the new creation with those things.  Julio’s short life will always be unfinished in the here-and-now, but all that he was created to be will be perfectly fulfilled in the world to come. 

I think Julio knew that. After his death, I flipped through pictures of him and noticed a tattoo on his arm that said memento mori. For a time Julio wanted to add “tattoo artist” to his ever-increasing repertoire of artistic skills, and he bugged me for months to help him buy the necessary equipment.  I always politely declined! From the Latin, Memento mori roughly means, “Remember you must die.” But this thought isn’t morose.  It is an encouragement to live each day to the fullest, knowing that our days are numbered and in God’s hands.   

Hours after Julio’s accident last January, I visited him in the hospital ward, a large, open room shared by twenty others whose bodies had been broken by violence and chaos of this impoverished city. Julio lay in a coma, and I took his hand and gazed at the battered face of this kid whom I loved so much.  Finally, I leaned down and whispered into his ear, over and over again, “Julio, God knows exactly where you are and what you need right now.  You have nothing to fear.”  A few hours later, Julio breathed his last breath, crossed through the curtain that divides this temporary world from the eternal one, and ran joyfully into the arms of his Savior.

An unfinished life in this sphere, but a beautiful beginning to an eternal one.

In 2019, Micah missionary Pat Corley and I took Julio and a few of the guys his age to Denny’s for lunch (yes, that Denny’s—Tegucigalpa has three of them).  As we were eating, Julio excused himself to go to the bathroom.  He returned and when we finished our lunch, the entire waitstaff came to our table, put a paper crown on Pat’s head, placed a piece of cake in front of him, and began to sing Happy Birthday at the top of their lungs (Editor’s note:  it was not Pat’s birthday). As Pat sat there mortified, Julio was looking down and seemed extra interested in his dessert.  When he finally looked up, he burst out laughing until he was practically on the floor, thrilled with the outcome of his prank.  From that day on, Julio and Pat greeted each other every morning with hearty laugh and a “Happy Birthday!”

Julio shares a laugh with Micah friends after squirting his brother Yoel with water.

I will miss these little things most. While trying to process the loss of his son, Wolterstorff writes:

“Never again will anyone inhabit the world the way he did”.

Wolterstoff, 33

Copy that. It’s so, so true of Julio.

But now, a year-to-the-day since his accident, I can smile as I remember moments like these. Although my smile is blurry and tinged with tears, nevertheless, it is a smile.

I wish I could have watched Julio grow old.  I still think he would have changed the world. But for now, I am at peace (a little more every day) knowing that his unfinished life has begun anew in a place flooded with the beauty of his Father’s love. 

~ Michael Miller, January 21, 2023

Works Cited

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. 1987. Lament for a Son. 

Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co. 

Wright, N. T.  2008. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the

Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  New York: HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.


We all know that the holidays can be hard for those who have lost loved ones, and this has been especially true for the Micah family this year as we celebrate our first Christmas without Julio, who passed away in an accident in January.

Micah grad Brayan Chavez wrote a song this month to put that loss into words, and the whole Micah family helped film the video. (Translation below).

Here is a rough translation of the video:

(Chorus). We remember you forever
Your friends are here for you as always
We’re swimming upstream
Honoring you with our heads held high.
You left a huge hole in our lives, but
After the fight we’ve made our peace.
We’re here with no disguise, but
We are still waiting for one of your hugs.

It’s December and I am lost in a maze of pain
Which doesn’t go away even with three Tylenol.
Life’s not the same without you, I can’t even sleep
Sometimes I want to go far away from here
To try to find a happy place.

I miss you so much and I want to hear your voice
It’s so hard to live without you, smiling on the outside
But sad on the inside.
But I know you don’t want me to live like this.
Night after night without sleep.

You spent your birthday in Heaven
And Christmas too.
I’m sending you my New Year’s hug!

Prepare a place for me because I will see you again in God’s timing
But for now, it is so hard to not have you here this December.
I miss the spice with which you cooked
And the flow you showed in your chef’s outfit
Now our kitchen bears your name.
And there are several warriors there fighting to reach the summit.
We honor your legacy, and we keep believing in the seeds you planted.

Sometimes we fall but we keep getting up.
We remember how good our last year was together
And my broken heart cries out.
We want to smile and make things seem normal.
But everything is out of whack without you.

I remember how you were: serene and with so much patience
The best human being and always looking out for your neighbor
Without taking any credit.

Sometimes I lose my will to fight.
I see so much injustice
Few smiles and more pain
But we are warriors and we keep moving upward
God keep us and bless us.
Even though we lost the best member of our kitchen.

And Michael is still broken. He remembers you and still speaks to you.
You were his son.
So many losses that he has suffered.
But he still moves forward.
Thank you for motivating us to do the same, Michael.

My brother, we will keep moving forward and never stop.
We had such a good year in your last year.
But who are we to question God’s will?
Fly high, brother. Fly high.

Your mom is a warrior, too, brother.
She remembers you every day.
And keeps moving forward.

The Micah family misses you, brother.
We lost our friend Israel too,
The best goalie we know.
We miss you but know you are in a better place.

From your flock of black sheep.
The Micah Cooks flock.
We are black sheep, but we keep moving forward.
Right, chef? Let’s keep fighting to move forward,
Honoring your legacy, let’s give it all we have.

We miss you brother. Fly high.