Wednesday, November 18, 2015

First Aid

Boa tarde!

      When teaching or coaching any sport, the worst thing that you can have happen is seeing someone under your tutelage injured. I have been injured many times from torn labrums to split lips and black eyes. I have also accidentally injured training partners. These are difficult to deal with, but when a kid is hurt in your class, a tournament, or worst of all in the street, it is almost unbearable. It is hard not to somehow feel responsable whether it is your fault or not.

      Last week, the kids in my BJJ class were working on rolling armbars from the back. They were all working hard and performing the technique well. However, they got loud, and a girl working with her younger brother balled up crying. He could not here her saying tap. For whatever reason he could not feel her tapping either. Her whole arm was swollen, and I spent the next two hours waiting for her mom to come take her. I thought it was going to be the first time I had a kid sent to the hospital. She couldn't move her arm or her hand. It hurt to keep ice on it. I thought is was broken for sure.

      Her mom came for her, and she decided to take her home and see if it would improve by morning. The next day they went to the doctor, and it was thankfully just a sprain. She was back in class two days later, albeit just to watch for the sake of precaution. It was a huge relief to find that it wasn't too serious. In the end we have to understand the risks of combat sports.

      Even harder though are the risks of working in violence-prone urban poverty. Here I have seen a young man walk into class with a stab wound in the thigh in both Managua and East St. Louis. I have seen my most promising and talented kid kicked out of his house and sleeping in the Street night to night. The last time I ever saw him, he was consumed by drug addiction and covered with scars like ladders running up his arms and legs. He was thirteen when all of this happened. I have had to carry an 11-year-old's casket. I have had a good friend jailed and tortured by an oppressive government after a peaceful protest. He now lives in another country where has to sleep on the floor. I here news of kids I used to know who have been shot to death. I even saw a young man who had been held down by gang rivals to a gang he had left while they cut a chunk out of his calf muscle with a knife. The wound seemed to stare right back at me with the swollen, pink, rotting flesh surrounding the infected hole, like a gaping pupil that had witnessed an ugliness nastier tan its own appearance.

       These images wound your soul. This job is overwhelming at times. For the most part it is joy and triumph. The failures can really cut you though. But if you don't take it on, who will? Is it certain that someone else will take your place in their lives? No. God puts us in people's lives for a reason. In Him there is hope, and with Him we can do the impossible.

       The director at the community center here once said that the most tenacious seed of all is the Kingdom of God seed. You might never see its fruit, but then again its not for your glory. He will keep cultivating the seeds we plant. We just need to have faith. We need to keep sharing His love. These things I see are the results of wounds that go back for generations. Yet God's love brings healing to the most profound brokenness.

       While these heavy memories began to weigh me down one day this last week, I walked into the center. I thought about giving up. God reminded me of why I needed to keep going. I saw the hardest kid I have ever had to deal with. He is a Young man now. He is stuck in drugs. He is jobless, and he has not kept up with school. He tells me about his buddies who are getting shot. But he is alive, and I still get to speak to him. He keeps coming back after the years, and I have an opportunity to bring first aid to his soul through the Gospel. It is the hardest path to travel sometimes, but no other race is worth running.

Modimo au gaugele.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


I will not be burned though I walk through the fire,
And I will not be consumed by my selfish desire.
I refuse to lose sight of my awaiting prize
Or my passion's plight blazing in my eyes
God's love's illumintaion scintilating
Deep from the corners most obscure
And my faith's foundation integrated
Into a once dark heart being made pure.

Many are trapped by pasts and circumstance,
But fate doesn't operate just by bad chance.
There is a choice, and we can change the plans.
To the mortician with my ambition!
I want submission to the commission
To bring the Kingdom to fruition.
My volition is to live this petition;
To speak this message to all the lands,
Guided by the Creator's gentle hands.
The Son of God removes the sin of man.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Gomper Stompin'

Bonjour tout le monde!

        It is a foggy Tuesday in the fabled "City of Champions". I drive past that welcoming billboard on 9th St. everyday as I come into work. It reminds me of Jackie Joyner Kersie, the Olympic gold medalist, who came out of East St. Louis. It reminds me of the kids I have seen win championships in the past. It reminds me also of the East St. Louis high school football team that missed the state play offs because of the strike and of athletes who might have picked up scholarships as scouts watched them in their games, perhaps missing out on their shot at success. Most of all, it reminds me of the importance of what is found in this community.

      Within the rubble-filled streets covered in broken booze bottles and massive pot holes(one of which nearly devoured a truck of mine a few years back) crossing through the Samuel Gompers projects there are a lot of people who reflect these images. Here one will see some abandoned homes overgrown by plants across from the public school.  Right next to our community center is an apartment complex that burned down a few years ago. Inside of the habitable spaces broken families are also easy to find. Abuse cases, poverty, drug use, and a general lack of hope run rampant. However, champions don't stay down. I see in many of these kids and their parents a will that won't break. I see God move in them daily. This is the City of Champions.

      My kids are getting ready for their first tournament this Saturday. They have trained hard. They have technique, endurance, strength, and mentality. More imprtantly, they have good character. I know that they will represent their fellow students, their families, and their community with honor. The days get fewer as they make their final preparations for the first of several competitions. It will be a big day indeed, regardless of the outcome.

     I run laps around the community frequently and, I keep seeing this hope in its residents. I am getting ready for a fight of my own, and it reminds of how in competing I am my students' champion. When I fight, I represent them. I represent the Gompers. In my last fight I carried a Nicaraguan flag to the cage because that was the community I represented. I still do. It is pressure, but I must represent them all well. This does not mean always winning the fight, but rather it means showing the outstanding character I see in them.

     It is said that as believers we are ambassadors of Christ to this world. Therefore it is of the utmost imporatance that people see Jesus in our thoughts, words, and actions. An ambassador tries to show the best of their country so that others will see the greatness of their homeland. This is the cause I want these kids to champion most of all. Their competition is awesome, but it is only part of their story. It only impacts parts of their lives. Our walks with Christ are all-encompassing. They involve every aspect of who we are, and it is important for us to understand that whatever we do, we represent Him before others. We are fighting, but we can show kindness, patience, humility, joy, gentleness, self-control, and above all love in any struggle against any circumstances.

     I am reminded of this everytime I step out into the Gompers. God is present even in the midst of the worst looking places. Just yesterday I had a young girl who came tome saying that she almost got kicked out of school on the first day back after the strike. She said her friend got jumped by some other kids. She wanted so badly to get involved. She then said that she realized that if she fought, she wouldn't be allowed back into martial arts class, so she stayed out of it. The other kids were kicked out of school. We must be present in the same way as God wherever we are. We need to be salt and light and keep our eyes peeled for the glimmers that poke through the darkness. You never know who is watching for that light to get out of their tunnels or what they will do once they get to the other side. God bless the City of Champions!

Gott segne dich!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Big Shoes


        It is the eve of my son's first birthday. I have come home from work, played with him, and I am watching him wander around the house independently with just one sock on his feet. I have tried to urgently keep him away from the oven while baking dinner. I can't help but be amazed though as I look at him playing with my shoes. They are over half the length of his body. I remember how long it took for me fit my own dad's shoes, and now I am in his position. The shoe is on the other foot.

       Thing s have changed a lot since those days. It is hard to comprehend everything that has happened since then. I have reflected on a few memories that stood out more recently. These are the things I want to honor and contribute to my own son's childhood experiences as I give my best at raising him to be a good man. This is the father I will always love and respect regardless of anything else that happened. Everyone makes mistakes big and small, but this is the highlight reel I want to post.

1. As a child I spent much of my time memorizing the populations of cities around the world as well as the local small towns. I did this from seven to eight years old. My dad would take me to the edge of different towns until we got to the green city limit signs that had the popultation listed just below the white bold letters of the town's name. We would do a u-turn then and come back home.

2. At about the same age, I wanted to be a herpetologist. I had a lizard, a turtle, and I caught a lot of toads and frogs. What I really wanted was a snake. We lived next to a corn field, and there was a long corn snake that lived near the wood pile in the back yard. My dad went back and caught with his hands, bringing it over Steve Irwin style. He put it inside of my rectangular, glass aquarium, where the unnamed snake spent its few moments of captivity beating its head against the transparent walls without ceasing. I looked at my dad and said, "I don't want a snake anymore." So my dad reached in and grabbed the hostile serpent, taking it back to the wood pile from whence it came.

3. My  father was the pilot of our many long-drive summer vacations. Whether it was a Highland Games festival in North Carolina, the Smoky Mountains, Galveston, Texas, Niagra Falls, or even Matamoros, Mexico once, he drove us the many miles to get us to see new places. The best example was going to Wisconsin Dells, where we decided it was too cold, so we turned araound and drove to the opposite end of the country at Perdido Key, Florida. It seemed that no adventure was too far away if it meant a good memory for the family.

      I want to encourage my son's thirst for knowledge. I want to enable him to embrace his passions. I want to take him on adventures he will remember for the rest of his life. My father did this for me. I will honor what he did for me by doing the same for my son. I will make my own mistakes along the way as well. However, I will leave him some footsteps worth following too. I just have to be careful not to step in any pits along the way. How does that song go?

"Lord, I want to be just like You because he wants to be just like me."

Que Dieu te benisse!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Scavenger Hunt

Bom dia!

     This morning I had some extra time on my hands at the community center since none of my adults showed up for class. I started off with two kids who rode up to me on their bikes asking if they could get extra training early. I told them to come back in 15 minutes. They did not show up again. I was feeling a little discouraged, but I used the time to check my email since I rarely have time to do so in between teaching time.

     One of my co-workers approached me, and we began to talk about the issues of the community like consistency, initiative, discipline, priorities, goal-setting, and the list went on. She works with the families in the communtiy to educate parents on nutrition, child interaction, violence and domestic abuse, health, financial planning, and other issues they confront on a daily basis in the struggle to survive. The conversation ended on the note that we need to go into the community itself and meet with families where they are at. Their kids will come, but if they have no material incentive, the parents will not show up. Abstract, long term rewards do not work well for people who do not have hope in tomorrow.

     I have worked with a number of good parents here who prioritize well and plan for their families' futures, but they are the minority from what we have seen. My co-worker suggested going to them if they won't come to us. This reminded me of something from working in Managua. I went to speak on honoring your father when he has hurt you or when he was not there. The message was for the youth of the church. They did not show up. I sat in the church and prayed, and I Heard, "Take the church to them."

    I went with a young man up the street, where we found a kid who had robbed me and one of the two gangs involved in a shoot out that closed my youth group a few months earlier. We went up to them and asked if we could share the message. The were drunk, high, and covered in bandages from machete wounds, but they agreed and listened intently. They even collectively hushed down one of them who interrupted with his incessant giggling. We were invited back week after week, and eventually they got involved in churches and got jobs. The gang was disbanded.

   So today I went into the Gompers projects trying to take the church to them. I sought out the young man we prayed for a month and a half ago who had been shot four times. I couldn't find him. I went to the last building at the edge of the neighborhood, and he wasn't there. Who was there was a gang of young men staring me down and walking towards me. I felt like I was reliving my experience. I remember the initial fear. I thought they were moving in on me. Then one of them yelled to me, waving emphatically, "Mr. Hamilton!!" It was a former student from years ago. He had come in to lift weights with me earlier in the week and came in late this morning to see if we would train again. This time I got to meet the whole group. One of them recognized me from when I was going through the neighborhood advertising clases a few months ago. I also ran into a lot of the kids I work with. It is always eye-opening to see them in their context, walking through the street or hollering from their doorways.

   I did not find what I was looking for today, but I did come upon some hidden treasures. Our director once told me to look to Isaiah 45:3 which says, "And I will give you treasures in the darkness, and hidden wealth  of secret places, in order that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name." I know what real wealth is, and these experiences are both lavished and vitalizing. I am greatful to have them, and they come from a morning stroll through the ghetto. Amidst the broken glass and broken dreams there is still hope, and there are still smiles and laughter. There is excitement for a new day. I didn't find what I wanted, but I found what I needed to discover.

Modimo au gaugele!


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Back in the Neighborhood

 Guten abend meinen freunden!

      So it has been over two years since I have written here. I have dearly missed the cathartic experience of writing. I have a good many stories to tell from my absence, and there are new ones being written in my quotidian routine. I have had a son, traveled to several new countries, fought numerous more fights and tournaments, been robbed, caught chikungunya fever, moved from Nicaragua, etc., etc.

       I have another fight coming soon, and my son will be a year old soon. There will be a lot to update, and I will even be publishing some poetry here too. I have to say that in spite of some Everest highs and Mariana's trench lows over the last couple of years, I am left with just two words: praise God! The road is very winding right now and there are certain to be many obstacles, ecstasies, and mundane moments ahead. I welcome them all as well as the lessons they bring. No vayas por el camino que te lleva, sino ve por donde no hay camino y deja huellas.

     I am back in East St. Louis with more skills and knowledge to prepare leaders there. Now we have people from around the world who Skype the kids for them to practice their language skills. I have to thank all of the people who have poured MMA techniques and wisdom into me in my excursions throughout Central America and to Katayama-san in Osaka for the boxing tips as well. It is great to be able to share them with my students here. I have more kids consistently kicking butt than in any class I have taught anywhere.

     I have to say though that my return has been somewhat bizarre and sad. Many of the business' in East St. Louis have shut down. Shootings have gone up. While visiting one of the projects, I ran across a young man who had been shot four times. We went up to his room to pray for him, and we could see the bandages on his arm and his stomach. He could stand up, but he is confined to his room. He makes me think of this city: seriously wounded, but alive and breathing. There is much to be done here. The school district is on strike as well. Many kids are losing out on what education they get. The timing is right for this season in my life to work here again.

    There is so much more to share, but this is just to break the ice. I will be putting time into this periodically to keep everyone updated as to what is going on on the frontline, and I will also be putting up some of the stories from my "sabbatical" from this page. Have a great day, and keep fighting the good fight!

Daiwan jaini mai mumbia!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Red Tape Marathon

Kombanwa friends and readers,

        A good marathon runner can run 26.2 miles in under 4 hours. I am astounded by that. But what happens if it is a 26.2 mile obstacle course? Could their bodies endure? Would their spirits break? We all set goals for ourselves, sometimes it is just another day of work, or it might be whenever we step through our front doors. Usually it is a combination of all of them. We struggle to have the endurance and mental toughness to make it through the twenty-four hours we are given and how we use them. How do you keep pushing forward when you are dehydrated and cramping? Or when you think your muscles will give out?

       I have spent a lot of 5 am to 10 or 11 pm days in the last months. Then I got sick last week, and I still wound up with a pretty full plate of work. I learned a valuable lesson last week when I felt like my time was out of my hands. Patience allots to success in that it allows you to relax and see the opportunities in the midst of chaos. It is also the source of the endurance we need to advance forward when we feel so far behind on our priorities. Today was my chance to put this lesson into practice.

       I have training for a fight this Friday. I have to prepare for my trip back to the U.S. next Monday. I am still working on ministry stuff for this week. My biggest goal for this year is to take a small mission team of Nicaraguans to Japan, and today that took its just place on the totem pole consuming nearly the whole day. The result was satisfying.

       My wife and I will take two youth to Osaka, Japan in November to share the gospel. One is a polyglot volunteer with the One by One ministry who sings, cooks, and speaks Spanish, English, German, and Japanese. His spare time is spent working with kids here in the church on scholastic reinforcement. The other is one of my wife's Japanese students at the House of Hope. The House of Hope is a refuge for women who were prostitutes and their children. This young woman is studying to be a nurse with a diligent work ethic and a humble heart. The young man, Kevin, obtained his passport a few weeks ago. Today we went out for the girl's passport.

      My wife and I left our house at 6:30 this morning. We got to the House of Hope at 7. We checked to make sure that the girl had all of the necessary documents. From there we left for the immigration offices to get her passport. When we arrive at immigration, we are placed in the first line of many to be sent to one of the other innumerable lines. There we are told that our payments are not accepted at immigration, but rather at the bank located at a convenient ten-minute drive. We go to the bank where we luckily find one of the only drive thru transactions and pay for the passport. We then take the voucher back to immigration. We go back through the first line, and the lady directs us to another line where we can by the paperwork for the passport. We get the paperwork, and the four of us fill it out as a team to avoid any mistakes or ink stains which would cause us to restart the process. Then we go outside to photocopy our documents. Then we return to the first line. The lady asks for all of the documents. We were told at first that we just needed the birth certificate, and the lady asks for a cédula(like a social security card). The girl was just eligible to get one in January, but they had not yet given her hers. So now we had to hunt this down.

       We drive to the other side of a major city to a small office, where supposedly we might find the cédula that was applied for four months prior. When we arrive They tell us that the government changed the required document for withdrawal from her birth cirtificate from the mayor's office, to a birth certificate from the Supreme Electoral Counsel which was located even further away, and we did not know what she needed for it. They changed the law and her birth certificate that she had for her entire existence on this planet was now null. We then remembered that they said that she could also use her application information for her cédula. So we drove to the House of Hope outside of the city itself on a dirt road in the mountains outside of the city to get the application information.
       Once we obtain what we need, we drive all the way back to the immigration office. We go through the first line again, and we finally pass!!! They send us to a new line where we wait to get a number to stand in another line. This line took by far the longest, but when the girl and her mother stepped in, they turned in their documents, went through a confusing interview, and finally got confirmed for her passport!!!! It took almost nine hours total, but mission accomplished!

       In the midst of it all I kept praying, and I felt like God was repeating, "Just be patient." Sometimes patience is God's way of preparing us for bigger things. Sometimes we need the obstacle courses to mold our characters into what God is calling us to be for the next situation. Endurance training prepares us for bigger races, and the race we run for God's glory is the biggest there is. Don't let exhaustion stop you! Be patient and keeps your eyes on the prize!

O daiji ni!!

"We can rejoice too when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation." - Romans 5:3-4