Let me start by introducing you to two of my best friends, Sammy and Celeste. I met them both in their hometown of Tijuana when I was 16, and we have been close friends ever since. Sammy and I have stood by each others’ side through thick in thin, and has been especially close to me since I began to follow Christ. In fact, he was the only friend who tried to reach out to me with the gospel when I was lost and living a wild and hypocritical life. More recently, Jamie and I were honored to both be in their wedding in Tijuana last August. –Andy Nunes
Celeste’s dad Sergio Gomez has been a minister in Tijuana since the 1960’s and is the founder of an orphanage called City of Angels. I first visited City of Angels in 2005 and have spent little bits of time around the kids throughout the years. Recently a lot of changes have occurred at the orphanage and to make a long story short, the leadership has changed. God called Sammy and Cel to leave their house near the beach in Playas de Tijuana and relatively comfortable life, where they spent their first year of marriage, to become the next leaders of City of Angels. Though reluctant at first, God answered many prayers and gave them the desire and ability to follow the calling and a job that requires nearly 24/6 schedule of physically and emotionally draining work. They started at the beginning of September and are now fully moved in.
Sammy in particular has been put in charge of a group of 12 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18. Each of these kids has a unique story and situation. Some have been there from infancy and some are more recent arrivals. Originally, the orphanage was for younger children, but in many cases there is no alternate solution such as going back to family members, so naturally they ended up with teenagers with nowhere to go. In Mexico, many orphans actually have parents that are alive, unlike some parts of the world like Africa. Sometimes parents are not able to care for their children due to things like extreme poverty and addiction, and in many cases the children were severely abused by their own family members.
Neglecting the Youth
One problem I have noticed throughout Latin America is how the older kids are so often neglected, often unintentionally. The situation with adoption is very similar, in that it is so much easier for cute little kids to be adopted than the sometimes hardened older kids that aren’t so cute and innocent. To be honest, I have seen that American groups that visit unknowingly contribute to this phenomenon by doing activities and giving gifts oriented towards the cute little ones while the older ones try to disappear into their rooms and avoid the sometimes empty promises and momentary connections that quickly vanish. I certainly don’t believe this is our intention, but it’s the sad reality and causes the older kids to feel neglected. Many of these kids have never owned anything that is truly their own. They get used (and sometimes dirty) clothes handed to them and rarely get to even be a part of the decision of which clothes they receive. Many have never had anybody take them out to get a new outfit, a new pair of shoes, a new backpack of their choice for school, etc. Imagine trying to explain to them the Father’s love for them when they feel neglected and not cared for in their most basic needs.
Called to Action
Something that Sammy has realized in their first several weeks as directors is that these kids have very little awareness of their own community and city. They know the route to school and church, and that’s about it. Many have never been to a museum or a library or a decent restaurant, or all of the other things that are all around them. It’s no wonder there is a huge problem getting the 18 year olds to integrate into society when they have hardly ever experienced the outside world.
Enough build up – here is how you can help these youngsters in a tangible way. Sammy’s biggest desire right now is to launch a new initiative to make the lives of these teenagers more like those of normal teenagers who grow up with parents and are able to develop into fully functional members of society.
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June 1st to June 17th, 2014.
I traveled to ICELAND. At this point in time, I had already planned to purchase my soon to be fiancée’s (optimistic/excessively confident plan?) engagement ring during travel. My mind was racing with excitement to go on the treasure hunt of my life; to bring back memories and stories that I could soon share with the most beautiful woman, Jessi. The thrilling story that I built up in my head was nothing short of thrilling, yet as most stories go it was not even close to what I imagined…
The thrilling story that I built up in my head was nothing short of thrilling, yet as most stories go it was not even close to what I imagined…
From day one in the capital city of Reykjavík, my family and I began the hunt. We were earnestly seeking out good jewelers all around the city, and as our two week vacation journey was filled mostly with icebergs, volcanoes, hot springs, caves and sheep I had to take every opportunity I had to seek out big city action. As we shopped around, store after store, cookie monster street names (hilarious reference from a lost New Yorker we met in Iceland) were blurring together and I was not able to find one place with a simple diamond in the center of the ring!! As I scratched my head in wonder, I finally asked a local what the meaning of this was and here is what I got:
The culture is very different in Iceland (are you surprised?). Here in America, we tend to like the showy, flashy celebrity 10K Diamond rings. Apparently in the land of Ice, they simplify the designs, and any stylistic additions are intended to mimic the majestic natural surroundings. Both man and woman have matching bands, and for a large majority of the married couples, the wedding band doubles as the engagement ring! The couple would wear it together from the engagement on past the wedding to eternity. Funny concept, right?
At first I was rather perturbed about this because although I knew Jessi did not want a diamond the size of her eyeball, a diamond still has great significance. Such a beautiful stone that has been pressurized out of carbon to become a stunning beauty of symbolic marriage fortitude is still quite meaningful.
Well, I thought, maybe another city will bring my excitement back up on this subject – no need to get down about it just yet.
The second largest and most populous city in Iceland was where we were about 6 days into the trip. Of course the one decent looking jewelry shop was closed for the weekend. Not to mention a national holiday would make it closed the final day of our stay there…on a Monday of all days. That was quick!
After over a week and a half of time went by, I had done quite a bit of brainstorming. One, I couldn’t get a specific shop that we stopped at in Reykjavík out of my head. Another, the concept of the matching wedding bands started to come across as genius to me. I even began to think that I would not want it any other way. Maybe it was the simplistic design of an intricately amazing country that had been rubbing off on me? Possibly it was the story that I loved: a part of my heart was found in the stunning landscape and advanced culture which seemed to know a bit more than we do about how to enjoy life in complete appreciation of God’s creation. Regardless of the reason, I had made a considerately large decision to pinpoint Gullkunst Helgu on the third to last day of our trip (since we would be coming back through civilization to arrive at the airport on time). There was a particular design that I wanted to look at again, and the thought of it lingered with me for the second half of our trek.
Swift and Ready!
It’s go time. Fortunately, my family had rented two little Ford Fiestas, and that meant that I would break away for a day to myself to sort out my thoughts and pick the ring of my liking. Two hours of driving later, I was back in Reykjavík, mother for advice in tow.
That was it. I knew what I wanted as soon as I saw it, and a calming peace flowed through my body that the decision was done! We worked out a deal with the vendor of the shop to create my rings in white gold, however it was another holiday the next day. The kicker being there was no promise that we would get it before we left the country. I went back to the hotel after losing some hope that this would become a reality (returning to the states June 17th, and my proposal was planned for July 5th) and prayed that if it was God’s will that it would all work out.
After the holiday, we popped in to the shop even before the goats and puffin were awake and were so grateful to see the doors open one more precious time. As an answer to prayers, the owner of the shop happened to be in, and after describing to her my situation she nodded her head appropriately and said, “We will have it for you by the end of today.” Now my blood was really flowing! I could almost not believe that through the journey/insanity of the most epic family trip, I would be the most thrilled to see a piece of metal be created into one limitless band. My family continued on towards the airport an hour away, and I stayed in the big city to soak up the immensity and excitement of that moment.
I ate sushi in an open air dojo, and walked around the entire city seeing art, sculptures and people that I had overlooked before. It was a surreal experience considering the sheer beauty of the country that I witnessed, coupled with the magnitude of knowing that I was ready and that God had prepared this perfect moment for me. What I failed to mention was that this would not have been a reality if it wasn’t for an IcelandicAir strike. Because of unhappy airplane workers our flights back home were set back a day. Thus allowing me to come away with the perfect ring for my lady, and the Icelandic metal workers were able to do their masterful work on our bands.
It all fell into place as my friend Jarred Cavaness at Chris’s Jewelry in Fremont set me up with the ideal setting to hold my mom’s first diamond from my dad for Jessi’s engagement ring. This happened the week I got home, and yes, she said yes. 🙂
Take a peek at some of the images I snapped while touring the city at this page: Listaverk (Artwork)
God is real. His promises are true. I love Him with every ounce of my being. Praise God for this opportunity I have at life, and for Jessi – the angel that I get to experience it all with.
This is the song I sang to Jessi the evening
that I proposed to her. Here goes!
I’ve been living a whole new life
I’ve been seeing God’s hand in mine
I’ve been watching faith in you fill
I’ve been watching His mighty will
I’ve been watching His mighty will
So define a life with you
And this dream is real to me
I now know what I have found
I now know God’s love abounds
It tremendously astounds
I belong with you, you belong with me you’re my love my miss
I belong with you, you belong with me you’re my love my miss
An excellent wife who can I find?
Strength and dignity are her clothe
And she smiles at the future
But a woman who fears the Lord
She shall be praised Amen
And love, let it be found
Our hope is in Him now
Broken we are found