Remember the Mountain Top


This post marks the official beginning of the Ace Hoops blog. And for those of you that made it, welcome! Unlike the likes of the Brett Favres of this world, I am contemplating walking out while on top of my game–quitting this blog-thing following this post, as this may be the most powerful story–the most amazing glimpse into our GOD–that I, and Ace Hoops, will be able to offer you in quite some time.

And so the story begins…

Ace Hoops began with a vision to use the game of basketball to reach kids for Christ. To invest Christ’s love–to weave it into every fabric of the relationships we’d develop with our kids. And the vision unfolded two years ago in a place that many people would say (and have said!) you should never go.

Think of your ideal vacation spot, and all the luxeries that it entails. Now, think of the complete opposite. Welcome to our first home. Welcome to Juarez, Mexico.

If you think I’m kidding, just google “Juarez” and see what you find. Check out the headlines and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s the media proclaimed “World’s Most Dangerous City.” Thousands of murders every year, cartels fighting for drug turf, and no where to turn–as the local officials and federalis are as corrupt as the drug lords themselves. If Hell exists on earth, look no further than just miles south of El Paso, Texas–pockets and parts of this city lie in complete darkness.

And yet, along the rolling hills of the ghost-like city sits a light. And this light is Emmanuel Children’s Home–a place where kids can be kids. Where joy and hope and a future are seen on the smiles of children laughing and playing. Where they can eat and be full. Sleep and be rested. Hugged. Loved. And where Christ is King!

This is our home. This is Ace Hoops roots and the beginning of our journey. We have organized two mission trips to the home the past two years, and are planning for three more over the course of the next 12 months! Our trips are kid-focused, using basketball as the avenue for relationships to grow. And along the way, we’ve had the BLESSING of getting to know so many incredible kids.

We’ve also gotten to know many of the leaders of the home. I can call them friends!

One of the leaders of the home is Joel. Joel is the principal of the school at the home. His wife, Betel, is the director of the home. They have two amazing and beautiful kids.

After school on Wednesday afternoon, following what I imagine to be just another day at the job (kids laughing and screaming and getting hurt and….being kids), Joel left in his car for home–just a few blocks from the children’s home. As he drove down the hill from the home, two cars awaited him at the bottom, cutting him off and forcing him to stop. Immediately, two men jumped out of the car, with guns pointing, demanding that Joel get out of his car. And he did. Joel, a friend to me, and an amazing father and husband and leader, kidnapped. Taken from those who love him the most…..

They demanded roughly $100,000. When told that neither Joel’s family nor the children’s home had that type of money to offer, they vowed to kill him, then come after members of Joel’s family. And in this place–in this city–that’s what normally happens. Except first, they’ll give the family another chance to pay ransom….after cutting off a finger. If they still refuse, another….and so the sick story continues….

But Joel was spared of the torture, for now anyway. The captors told Joel’s family that they’d call one last time the following day to negotiate the ransom.

Word spread from the home to the hundreds of the home’s supporters around the world, many of them here in Minnesota. With one voice, we prayed for God’s protection. For His peace and His strength and His guidance….We prayed for a miracle. Meanwhile, the history of the city’s recent past and all the voices from 6 feet under repeated the same old chorus: Joel had no hope. No chance to make it back in one piece. No chance to see his family again. Death was a guarantee, the only hope left was a quick death…

I didn’t sleep well Wednesday night. I don’t think many who knew of the situation did either, and Thursday morning came with no news to tell. Later in the afternoon, however, Emmanuel sent out a giant email to its supporters saying that Joel was still alive and that the negotiations were still continuing….

The prayers never ceased. We prayed for a miracle

And then the text message came. “They released him! Joel is back home!!!!”

The post-news Anderson household erupted in a giant time of worship and dance. My wife, Emily, and myself, along with good friend Jon Helle (who also joined an Ace Hoops team to the home this past July), turned our upstairs living room into the premiere Coon Rapids dance club, singing and jumping to the beat of our favorite worship songs–the songs that we sang and danced to with the kids from the home but a few months ago…(Side note: I am not kidding, this would have been quite the sight to see….just ask our poor neighbor who saw it all!)

We then Skype-called Adam Sebastian, a friend and another leader at the home, and saw a sight that brought tears to my eyes: dozens of kids–kids that we know by name and love and who love us too–singing and dancing to the exact same songs I was dancing to….1350 miles away.

The rest of the story is as follows: The captors called Joel’s family around 5:30 Thursday evening and said they had a change of heart. (A change of heart!?!) They realized that they had made a mistake, and that come dusk, Joel would be put on the first taxi back to the home. And sure enough, hours later, Joel, in one complete piece, returned back home.

This does NOT happen. Maybe in the movies, but not in this place. In Juarez, Mexico, if you’re kidnapped, consider yourself dead. And yet our own dead-man walking, Joel, has another story to tell, and his story goes like this: our God is BIGGER. Our God listens. Our God answers prayer.

I am on the mountain top right now. Filled with joy and awe and complete humility and humbleness. It is a feeling I haven’t felt, maybe ever. And while I know that I cannot live on the mountain top forever, I can always remember it.

I can, and always will, remember: