the story isn’t over yet

children eatingWe were out of projects, out of supplies, and out of motivation. And now, we were almost out of time.

My husband Todd and I were sponsors for our church’s youth mission trip to Querétaro, Mexico. We’d visited there a few years in a row, and we knew in general what to expect. A little paint and polish, some late-night tacos, a little talking to others about Jesus.

The truth was, no one really seemed to care we were there. As I was unpacking the painting materials, I remember thinking, haven’t we painted this wall before? We were frustrated, the students on the trip were uninspired, and worst of all, the people we had traveled all this way to serve seemed, well . . . uninterested.

“Do you remember the orphanage we visited in Tirana?” he asked. He had his back to me, bending over as he cleaned some paintbrushes.

My mind flew to another country and another time—another mission trip, one to Eastern Europe. I remembered talking to college students about Jesus— it was the first time those young Albanians had ever heard about him! Then one afternoon, someone took us to visit an orphanage . . . “Do I remember? Yes, of course I remember. Why?”

“Do you think there are any orphanages in this town?”

Within ten minutes of his question, we left the students with the other adult sponsors and jumped into a taxi, feeling like God was leading us to find an orphanage.

Looking back now, it seems so foolish. Silly, even. Right? We didn’t really speak Spanish, we didn’t have that much money with us if we came into trouble, and we were in a city we could have easily gotten lost in. We should have just stayed with our group, stayed safe.

But an hour later, we landed in front of a children’s home on a dusty road and knocked at the door, waving good-bye to our taxi driver. When we engaged with the children, I was instantly enchanted.  The adults had a few questions for us. What were we doing there?

“We have $200, twenty-five students, and one day left on our trip. What could you do with those resources?” Todd asked.  (I have since learned all missions’ opportunities, all outreaches start this way. You offer what you have in your hands to those you want to reach and then give all the credit to Jesus.)

The man shifted his eyes back and forth and then said softly, “The children haven’t had meat in a year, and that window up there is broken.” He waved in the direction of a window above us.

And as simple as that, our first mission began.

That was 1996 and today we are the Executive Directors of Back2Back Ministries, which has sites ministering to orphans in India, Nigeria, and three cities in Mexico, where I have lived ever since.  It started with some hamburgers (which we later found kids hiding under their mattresses) and has grown now to education, outreach, general care, fostercare, pre-emptive care, etc…  But I will never forget how we started, just two people whose hands were in the air.

When Todd and I arrived in Mexico in 1997, we didn’t know anything, didn’t have any big plan, didn’t speak Spanish—we were just moving in the direction of what felt like a big call. By the end of the first week we had run out of cash. We had brought the rest of our money over the border, enough for what we hoped was one year, in traveler’s checks. We found a bank on that day and waited patiently in line until it was our turn in front of the thick glass window. I slid some checks under the glass and smiled.

Surely she understands without my talking that I want the equivalent in pesos, right?

The lady slid them back to me and said loudly, “Tienesquefirmar- tunombreaqui. . . .” I had no idea what she’d said, let alone meant. I smiled and pushed them back to her, rubbing my thumb and fingers together—the universal sign for money, right?

She looked annoyed (no language required there) and slid them back to me, this time speaking loudly into her microphone, “Firme- tunombre!”

I shrugged, looking sheepish. I got nothing. “TU. NOMBRE. FIRME. TU. NOMBRE.” This time, with the emphatic pauses, I could tell it was several words strung together, and I excitedly said to Todd, “I heard ‘nombre’. I know that word!” I proceeded to take out a piece of paper and, to confirm I had heard correctly, I printed out the word NOMBRE. Then looking at her questioningly, I showed her my paper through the glass.

Rolling her eyes and motioning to the long line forming behind me, she nodded, “Si, nombre.” And she pointed to a line at the bottom of the check, pushing them back to me.

I eagerly and neatly printed out “N-O-M-B-R-E” on the line (signing the word ‘name’ on the signature line, instead of actually signing my name).

One of my favorite verses still to this day is Zech. 4:10, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” I know the Lord was looking at me that day and could see all that was coming ahead, the millions we would transfer this year (fifteen years later) around the world in a half dozen currencies. He isn’t stuck in any day, or a particular circumstance, he is over all of it, writing with a master hand the story we get the opportunity to live. To imagine is to lift our eyes and see where we are now is just one step on a long journey, one chapter in the best story He could ever write for us… and the story isn’t over yet.


Beth Guckenberger

This post is a part of our “Who We Are” Series. For all posts visit,

“Who We Are: The Stories Behind TBM Writers”

Who We Are at The Better Mom

Sharing a Mission

1939759_10153986068080077_1694961220_oWe were walking in a Nigerian village and I was fifteen feet behind Todd. I happily was holding the sweaty hands of several village children, when I look up and see him. I later wrote on social media as a caption to this picture, “Oh yes, this is how I like this man… with a bible in his back pocket and an orphan in each hand.”

We celebrate twenty years of marriage this fall and with that much shared history come wonderful vacations, terrible fights, seasons of health and seasons of sickness. We have had months on end of what-wonderful-kids-we-are-raising and difficult days in-between when we want to manage them rather than parent them, just to make it all easier.

We’ve had regular date nights, and habits we have formed and broken a dozen times over. On our best days, it’s our common practice to stop wearing any hat other than ‘spouse’ after 9:30 p.m. If the laundry isn’t folded or the email isn’t answered… oh well, we are co-missioning a marriage, which is a priority over all others.

Sharing a mission of any kind, whether it’s a desire to reach our neighbors, or grow up our children, or work for the vulnerable means listening more than speaking, and respecting our sometimes vast personality differences. It often means not ‘dying on every hill’ with each other and respecting when judging comes more naturally. We find co-missioning means rejoicing over relationships instead of closed deals and as a result have shared thousands of meals with people we aren’t related to.

It’s a constant fight to see the battle is against an unseen enemy and to stand back to back with each other in our daily war for God’s storyline.

So when I find myself in a sweet moment, and the battle stills and we are exactly where we want to be, my heart catches. On an African dirt path behind him, I take advantage of the moment, grab my phone and capture it.


Beth Guckenberger

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

mountsinai1I have long loathed the word balance.  Awhile ago, adapting a principle I read in Matthew (from the Message translation), I exchanged ‘balance’ in my vocabulary with ‘rhythm.’

Matthew 11: 28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Doesn’t that already make you breathe easier?  God, in all his perspective, has written a daily rhythm we can listen for and sing along to. Some days, the rhythm picks up a bit and you move fast, other days, it’s slow and sweet and the only way you can fold into the day’s rhythm is by listening to the one who has ‘written every day before they came to be (Psalm 139).’ Balance makes me think I am in control. I am checking boxes, I am managing time, I am developing, controlling. Rhythm sounds like a posture of listening, discernment, and being Spirit-led.

There is this funny exchange in Exodus 19 where God asks Moses to climb Mt. Sinai three times in a row. He draws him up to tell him a message to take back down. I might be thinking if I were Moses, ‘If I heard you tell me to come up, I could hear you tell me what you want to say from down at the base of the mountain. That way an entire day is not being ‘wasted’ with the climb..’.  He arrives at the top though and the Lord tells him to go back down and get Aaron and come back up again. Really? If I heard you tell me to come up the first time, I could have heard the direction to grab Aaron before I climbed this mountain! At this point, Moses was 80 years old and climbing the 6,000 feet of Mt. Sinai was no small task. His actions were ‘out of balance’, he spent the bulk of the week either climbing up or down a mountain.


I think God had something for Moses in that long week’s walk. He learned to keep company with him, to listen for direction, and as the Lord tested his obedience and submission, he prepared him for what was coming in Exodus chapter 20, the Ten Commandments.

Words associated with balance speak to me of fear, “Am I keeping everything together?” “Am I looking like I have it all under control?”  And fear has a way of robbing us of storylines God is offering.

I am not perfect at this. With nine children and a full-time job, I have a lot of plates spinning in the air, but that is all the more reason for me to listen to the one who promises if I keep company with him, I ‘will learn to live freely and lightly.’


Beth Guckenberger

This post is part of our series Finding Balance as a Busy Mom. 

Please check the series page for all of the posts! 

Finding Balance as a Busy Mom

Letting Go of the Pipe

I was with a visiting friend the other day in a really poor neighborhood here in Mexico. Standing on the edge of a small river, we noticed a thin pipe running across the top of opposite banks bringing water from the “civilized” side of the river to the other, where the villagers live without running water.  What catches our attention is a line of chickens crossing the river like tight ropewalkers, clutching the pipe with their talons.  Step over step, they balanced top-heavy bodies, painstakingly making their way across the pipe.

chickenWe stand, our heads tilted to one side, mesmerized.   It kind of looked to me like a Far Side cartoon.

Finally my friend breaks the silence, “Aren’t chickens… birds?” he asks, hesitating over each word.

“I sure think so,” I casually answer back, not breaking my stare.

“Then… don’t they have, wings?” he persists.

“I guess so, I like to eat chicken wings…“ I smile, knowing where he is headed.

He then dives into the river and starts clapping and yelling underneath the birds, trying to scare them off the pole.  They very tentatively begin to protest and then unhappily flap their tiny wings and virtually sail across the remaining pipe.

“Yahoo!” he comes climbing back up on the bank, triumphantly flinging himself down.  “Although painful for sure, we did them a favor. They never have to step carefully again.  They now know they are flyers.  They can come across at their leisure, whenever they want.”

We sit down in the dirt, tired from all the excitement, proud.

Several moments of silence pass before our philosophical discussion begins.  What pipes do we hold on to, when we have wings to fly? What makes someone cling to what seems secure, but is clearly a harder route to cross? What kinds of things scare us enough to let go and use our ‘wings’?  Do we hold on because everyone else does?  Would we be the first to let go, or the last?  Do they resent the one who scared them off, or are they now grateful? The questions ensue.

We walk down the road for the next hour, visiting families in a neighborhood outreach, praying with them about troubles I have grown used to seeing, but not callous to hearing.  Between each house and visit though, I return to our chicken conversation. It not only makes me giggle, the metaphors were fascinating.

When it is time to return to the river for our things before leaving, I start asking around for a camera.  I want a picture of the flying chickens.   When we reach the bank, my heart sinks.

Walking again across the tiniest pipe you have ever seen, is our same family of poultry.

“Is that why we call someone a bird brain? Did they really already forget?” I ask frustrated.

My deep thinking friend shakes his head, “Aren’t we just the same though?  Bursts of glory when we let go, then a return to the same old familiar pattern?”

“Not me. No.” I shake my head angrily.  “I want to use my wings. I want to be done with careful walking.”

He smiles at me.

“Beth, then it’s time to let yourself be shooed off the pipe.”

In this season of new growth and warm weather, when we shed off our boots and scarves, I want to shed something else. I want to shed my fears of letting go. I want to shed routine and doing what I do because I have always done it.

I want my little chickens to watch me fly and believe there is more to life than hanging on a pipe.


Beth Guckenberger,

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