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Saturday, February 15, 2014

The birthplace of Los Angeles and .....

The last few days have been somewhat surreal and amazing all at the same time. Two weeks ago, I had been asked to be apart of cowriting an article with Jennifer Atencio for the "The Tidings" the oldest still printed newspaper in Los Angeles. Jennifer works with the San Gabriel Playhouse and is a Non-Profit Consultant and Grant Proposal Writer specializing in Program Development for established and start-up non-profit organizations. She is also very interested in educational programs and ministries in the Catholic Church and other Christian organizations with a focus on evangelization, grassroots Ecumenism, and Pro-life Causes. She was also a very close friend of my wifes in her teen years and had reconected in the last year or so. She had recently become interested in what we were doing with our nonprofit and wanted to get involved. The purpose of the article was to bring awareness to the plight of the peaceful protests going on in Ukraine now commonly refered to Euromaidan. It was and is to focus on the colaborative involvement of the churches and the resulting unity of different denominations, orthodox and Catholics. As many of you know, writing is not my best subject but knowing this was a great opportunity for us, I of course said yes. What I didn't know, was the total extent of the opportunity that was beginning to open up to us. Shortly after excepting the challenge, I was asked if I would come to California and be filmed in what I thought was somewhat of a mini documentary on the same subject. All of these different aspects were going to eventually link into what Vision for the Children International was doing in Eastern Europe. Needless to say, I was very stressed and didn't sleep very well as my departure to CA got closer and closer. Thoughts of inadequacy, fear of the unknowns and unrealistic expectations were running ramped in my mind. I eventualy came to some peace of mind after meeting with some friends of ours for council and prayer and realizing that at worse case, I would waste the cost of an airplane ticket and suffer some unrepairable emotional trauma ;) All of the details of my stay in California were very vague but regardless of this I found myself in San Gabriel California a week later. Arriving in LA, I was greeted by Martin the husband of Jennifer who gave me a whirlwind tour of Downtown Los Angeles on our way to his home were I would stay and work out the details of the coming days. After hours of discussion and processing information we both found ourselves not much clearer of what lied ahead and a bit brain dead from the long day. Many things needed to come together for any of this to happen and nothing at the time was a definite. Wednesday morning arrived quickly and running late we found ourselves at the beautiful and historical site of the San Gabriel Mission to meet with the film crew to discuss the details of the shoot. For no logical reason, I found myself at peace that this was going to work out and I was enjoying the beautiful day and the California History that was surrounding me. The San Gabriel Mission is the birth place of LA and was started by Father Serra of the Catholic Church. Well over 25,000 baptisms were conducted at San Gabriel between 1771 and 1834, making it the most prolific in the mission chain. In its heyday, it furnished food and supplies to settlements and other missions throughout California. Somewhere amongst my site seeing and conversations, I began to wonder if Father Serra would have ever imagined how his step of faith would grow into what now is the sprawling metropolitan community of Los Angeles. Interestingly that became the opening theme and a talking point that would introduce the video being produced. It was this idea that when anyone of us steps out in faith to follow the prompting or leading of the Holy Spirit, none of us can ever grasp the full extent of the impact that obedience can have on our world around us. Tying this theme in and the beautiful settings we began the interview. An interview that was to connect the dots of how a kid from LA county would end up running a ministry in Eastern Europe. It was very evident that God was involved in all this as the conversations took on a life of their own. Only once or twice did we have to stop the shoot and refilm a segment and even those were mostly because of noise polution. I have only on two occasions had to speak in front of a camera and both times it literally took about nine retakes of me saying the equivalent of two or three sentences. This was one of the reasons I had found myself panicking after excepting this opportunity. I have mentioned in the past how one of the greatest enjoyments in running our non profit is the people we meet. Well, one of these people was the director of this shoot, who I might note, did this entire shoot at no cost to us and only out of a heart to help bring awareness to at risk children, orphans and the sex trade industry. Louis Cywinski came to us with an impressive filming history and the recipient of five Emmys and in his words, he had filmed almost every great Hollywood star. As he began to list off an impressive number of actors that included John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ronald Reagan and the Dahlia Lama, I became overwhelmed with gratefulness at what God had orchestrated for us. Louis' easy going personality and experience quickly set the tone and put us all at ease. Meanwhile, Jennifer who had orchestrated my busy days in LA, began to make me feel I had some high powered agent working for us. Her contacts, passion and intense desire to create something impactful and meaningful for us and our mission was amazing! Often I felt like I had been sucked into a raging stream with nothing to do but ride it out to its completion. This raging current eventualy took us from working on the beginnings of an article that would go out to 200,000 readers, to a beautiful promotional shoot for Vision for the Children International, and lastly to meet with Father Alexie, a leader in the ecumenicle world of the Catholic Church. It is our hope an desire to create working relationships with the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe and this meeting was the beginning of this dialog. All these wonderfull events will ultimately bring us back to California on July 19th of this year to be highlighted at the Arcangel Film Festival at the San Gabriel Playhouse. No words can express the tremendous gratitude I have for Jennifer and her intense passion for what we are doing! Her heart for her lord, those who are hurting in our world and her desire for unity and love amongst Christians and our churches is a wonderful thing to witness. Please keep her in your prayers and thoughts as she continues to press in and finish the writting, finding the necessary filming editor for the promo and her ongoing work with the upcoming film festival. Well, I now find myself on the last leg of my flight home and I find myself in awe of the impact of all those who surrender themselves to the will of God and his purposes. I wonder if in time, the seeds of faith and action of these individuals will become like those of Father Serra and will eventually grow beyond anything they could possibly have imagined. I guess, only time will tell but just like it did for Father Serra and the San Gabriel Mission I am believing it will.

Vision for the Children International