2005 is a year well en sketched in my emotions. It was the year that I lived by myself in the forest of the San Bernardino Mountains. I was renting Lisa’s cabin in Crestline, CA. 2005 was the year my mom sold my childhood home in Grand Terrace, CA and moved from Southern California to the little medieval walled city of Puente* in Northern Spain.
What made this a little more emotional than just the average story of living far from your one living parent, was that my mom left me with everything to move into the steep Mountain cabin and even from the cabin into a storage unit there in Crestline. The curve ball of the move was that there were landslides on the last week of 2004, leaving Highway 18 from the valley to Crestline, closed. Even the other roads to the San bernardino mountains were closed with landslides during my time living on the mountain. So I moved to Crestline, living atop the mountain, during six months that Crestline was inaccessible to the world.
One way that God showed me mercy was by letting me go back to work at the one employer close to my heart, Thousand Pines Camp. I had worked there since I was 16, washing dishes, doing food service prep, as a camp counselor, working the craft room, paintball and even helping to run Day Camp. My best friend Jim, who I brought on board to work with me in 1998, was still there working there seven years later. Jim had worked his way to Lead Counselor/Dean. He encouraged me to interview for a job since I was back in Crestline. Well after I interviewed with Steve Garcia, the Assistant Program Director, he thought that I would make a good teammate to Jim and Lacy, so I went back to work at Thousand Pines, during the months before I would take up the call to move to Spain as a missionary, forever.
While on the mountain, I was pursuing the dream of joining my sister, Lisa Leatherwood, as a missionary in Spain. I was in the home-stretch of a two year internship under Pastor Frank Gonzalez working in the Micah House Spanish Bible Study, to develop it for graduation to full on Sunday Services at Trinity Church there in Redlands. Micah House Spanish Bible Study would soon be known as Fuente de Vida, the Spanish Speaking Worship Service at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Redlands.
In 2003 I graduated from CBU and went immediately to Candidate School for the Mission that my sister and Brother-in-law already worked for, as missionary church-planters in Spain. At that time I had recently had an amazing experience with my sister & brother-in-law helping them in Spain, and you can read about that in a book called “The Walls of Spain: Diary of a Short-Term Mission”. I went to Candidate School in Wyoming pretty confident of my immediate acceptance and expecting lofty praise, and was brought back down to earth when the board did not accept me, but recommended that I do a two-year internship to learn church planting in a Spanish-speaking setting. I left the meeting teary eyed, totally shocked at my rejection by what would eventually become my Missionary Agency. Yes, eventually I got in, and they have proved to be a very supportive and true and helpful agency. But in the meantime, around Cinco de Mayo 2003, I had recently graduated triumphantly from college and held a bon-voyage party with all my family and friends, and imagined being in Spain within the week, well that’s why I was so crushed when I got assigned an internship as a pre-requisite being accepted as one of their missionaries.
Well upon defeated arrival to my childhood home in Grand Terrace, California, I had a chance to cool down and look at all my graduation cards and gifts and the after-math of my graduation party, which included a Tiki-room, a “Bamboo Dining Hut” in the center of our sprawling backyard. I went out and spent a good amount of time reading my Spanish-English Bible (that I got for graduation) there and a former bandmate wanted me to act with him in a Redlands-based theatre, and to be his understudy as the principle male role, since he knew that I had a brand new Theatre Degree that I had to put to good use. So I got signed up in LifeHouse Theatre’s Flag-ship run of Pocahontas, little did I know that one block away from LifeHouse Theatre, awaited my sought after internship. So one afternoon as I studied the script and my Bible in my beloved Tiki-Room, I heard my mom calling me to come inside from the house. Well when I got inside my mom tells me how she was volunteering at our churches after-school program, called Micah House. She said she had met the directors of the Micah House After-School Program and that they were Cuban and, Frank, the director, had been a church-planting pastor in Miami and New Orleans. Well my mom told them of my need to find a Spanish-speaking internship, and Frank and Lydia tell her:
“You know, Elizabeth, our church also has talked to Frank about starting a Hispanic Ministry through Micah House.”
That was the beginning of my next two years, 2003-2005, as the intern of Micah House Director and Hispanic Ministries Pastor, Frank Gonzalez.
The birth of Theatre Camp.
When I returned to Puente in 2004 with Rich Hon, we were helping to put on some stain on a cabin at Siete Robles Christian Camp, the camp where Alicia and Dan not only have a good relationship with the director, Abel Rosada, but big dreams for their big idea for an English teaching outreach camp, called Cowboy Camp.
I was talking with Abel about Siete Robles and about my excitement to hopefully be there that coming summer, by July 2005. I told him how my Theatre Major was coming at California Baptist University, trying to find a way to encourage him with news of grandiose evangelical ministries in the far away land of America. Abel reminded me of a man like Abraham Lincoln, full of wisdom, hardship, and good nature. He politely listened to all my stories then brought it back to Cowboy Camp, beaming at how many campers filled the first year of Cowboy Camp last summer. Then he looked to the future. “I think a camp that focuses on teaching theatre along with English, that would be interesting to the campers.” I extended my hand for a shake, and Theatre Camp at Siete Robles was born. It wasn’t long that Alicia, Rod and I were hammering out the details for Theatre Camp one year later. Lisa was in her element, talking of how she wanted to do costumes and use accessories to make the little campers look cute, if nothing else, to their parents. We planned on making a camp where we teach them songs and dances during the week, so that even 6-year-olds who were dropped off at camp, could do something during the performance for their parents. While I was worried about blocking and children learning to say a line in English; Lisa thought of choreography and how to animate the kids to use expression and to sing along with our songs. We made a good team right away and were happy to be playing our missionary dream with our talents, recalling all the play rehearsals and summer camps that we had attended our whole lives. All the years of attending camp, then working at Thousand Pines, all came into use as we had to steer a wild pack of Basque and Spanish children. The age requirements of 7-16 turned out to be just like guidelines, as we had the comically diverse group ranging from 5 year-olds to 17 year olds all together to participate in our play. What was so hard having such tiny Basque kindergarteners at the same camp as American high school seniors was that we would confuse the little kids when we took a moment from rehearsal to give technical coaching in English to a “big kid”. Well, even if we had been speaking Spanish or Euskera to the kids, they were still 5-year-olds. What we did shine in, was at taking care of the little campers entrusted to us and talking straight to them in the slower moments of camp, like as we sat with them at meals.
The camps began to flourish, beginning with Cowboy Camp that summer. I moved out to Spain a year after my visit in 2004. It was July 2005 when I arrived at Lisa’s house with my luggage, boogie boards and mic-stands. I moved into the bedroom on the third floor of Lisa’s 16th century home, and jumped in to helping them with the English teaching in Tafalla, the church planting and Theatre and Cowboy camp at Siete Robles.
It was thrilling to be living out my dream of being a missionary in Spain. I had day-dreamed of living in Spain as a little boy, and had three trips to feed my interest and my burden for sharing the Gospel with Spaniards. 2005 was was the answer to the prayers my family and friends prayed for me and the consummation of my years of discipleship and training. In October of 2005 Lisa and I were planning all the music for the inauguration of the Centro Familiar Cristiano in Tafalla. We had a great inauguration service with lots of the brothers from Pamplona, Logroño, and Sevilla coming. Though it was tough maneuvering through all the paper-work for visas and owning a car and studying for the drivers training test in Spain, it was living out my dream with Dan and Lisa, and that was priceless.