Guckenberger turns Chapel into story of true giving

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Beth Guckenberger is in a hurry. This wonderful storyteller has a lot of wonderful stories to tell during her fourth visit to Chapel at Grand Canyon University, and she doesn’t have much time.

The founder – with her husband, Todd – of Back2Back Ministries tells the story of how, before a talk in Atlanta, she prayed for Jesus to be there with her and heard, “as clear as day, ‘I’ve been in Atlanta a really long time. I don’t need to show up.’”

Beth Guckenberger came to Chapel on Monday and delivered story after story about her ministry to orphans. (Photo by Slaven Gujic)

She is reminded of that day while listening to the Chapel band perform before her talk Monday morning and says all this in about seven seconds:

“I sat in that worship set and I thought to myself, ‘Jesus is here in Phoenix, there’s no doubt about it.’ And so I don’t need to ask Him to come and show up this morning. I’m just committing to Him that I’m going to show up and that I’m going to bring everything that I have with me – my thoughts, my mind, my hands, my resources, my time, my energy, my passion, my heart. This is what I’m going to bring. I’m going to come and show up with it, Jesus, and You do whatever it is that You want to do with that which I’m going to come and show up with.”

And then, to the audience: “This morning that’s my challenge to you: Would you come for the next 25 minutes and just show up?”

The rapid-fire pace continues as she tells the story of how she started her ministry. When she wasn’t getting enough fulfillment out of a disappointing mission trip to Mexico and asked Todd if he could think of a place God could use them elsewhere in the city, he suggested finding an orphanage.

“We jumped into a taxicab and we just started to say the word ‘orphan’ with a Spanish accent – like I didn’t speak any Spanish, so I was like, ‘orphano, el orphanatorio, orphanagorio.’ This cab driver figured out what we wanted, drove us to an orphanage and left because that’s what cab drivers do, and I looked at my husband like, ‘Do we even know the name of the street that church is on? Do we have enough pesos to take us back? What are we going to say to these people if they answer the door?’ We should have been in this moment of total panic, but Jesus brought this gift to us, this peace.”

A knock on the door started their ministry. The orphans had not had meat for a year, so Beth made them hamburgers. When she discovered some of the preschoolers stuffing extra burgers under their mattresses, Guckenberger says, “Nothing in my life ever felt the same again.”

Small beginnings

More stories, all told in the same rapid and hilarious fashion – anyone who didn’t hear her talk is urged to click on the replay at the bottom of this story to truly appreciate her approach:

She tells of how she and Todd saved and saved, took a one-year leave of absence from their jobs and moved from their native Ohio to Mexico to start their own orphanage. Cashing their traveler’s checks proved to be another misadventure that finally got solved – but only after she figured out that the teller wanted her to sign her name and not the Spanish word for it, nombre.

It’s another example of one of her favorite Bible verses is Zechariah 4:10: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”

“He didn’t look down at me that day and think to Himself, ‘Oh my gosh, she is going to be a terrible missionary. She can’t even cash a traveler’s check.’ He looked down at me that day and He saw all the events of my life that led to that moment and He saw all that was still to come. He knew this year we’d be transferring 10 million-plus dollars in rupee and naira and peso all around the world. He just put me in a long line of people throughout biblical history that He’s been using that is ill-equipped and immature and under-prepared so that one day when you would hear the context of this story there’s no way in the world you would give credit to the girl who can’t even cash a traveler’s check.”

Hearts ripped to pieces

She tells of how the orphans would at first reject her message of God’s love, saying of the first girl she encountered, “I didn’t have to speak Spanish to know what she was saying right back to me: ‘Oh really? Because if this is His plan for my life, then I don’t want anything to do with Him.’”

She tells of how she started calling everyone she knew, asking them to join her in Mexico, and finally was sent a group of eighth-graders. “Jesus, I have begged You to send help, and you sent me a living room full of 14-year-olds,” she remembers thinking that night.

But, like Jesus, she set to work with what she had. One hundred percent of orphans have been abandoned or abused, Guckenberger says, and many were tricked into being taken to the orphanage. They feel different. They feel unloved. To demonstrate that to her new 14-year-old acolytes, she took a piece of paper and ripped it into tiny pieces to demonstrate that heartbreaking scenario.

“This is how the enemy works,” she says. “Just hear me if you hear nothing else today. The enemy looks for blood in the water, and once he finds it, it’s like low fruit hanging off the tree. He comes at them again and again. This first rip is going to be one of a thousand. He literally looks for those that are hurting and doubles down. (She starts ripping a piece of paper.) They get rips at school where they’re the only kid not invited to things. They don’t have homework help. They have rips in their dorm room because kids that are hurt hurt other kids. Their workers are tired of taking care of them and don’t have time to nurture them. They have visitation days that nobody visits them, or they have visitation days when somebody visits and they think to themselves all over again, ‘How come I don’t get to go back with you?’”

When she is done saying all that, Guckenberger starts picking up pieces of paper to show what it’s like to make heart deposits in these kids’ lives. She reminds the audience that there are 163 million orphans in the world and that an average of one child is plunged into sex trafficking every minute. She tells of her favorite Hebrew word, hineni, which means “here I am” and implies that you will do whatever is asked of you.

“Sometimes I find myself (thinking), ‘I’m all about hineni, Lord, but to anywhere but there, or to anyone but them, or to anytime but now.’ I have all these conditions around my hineni. But I think when we as a people decide, individually and corporately, that we’ll do whatever it is that God has asked us of, regardless of the cost, we’ll find that the kingdom advances. We’ll see the miracles that we long to see, the reconciliation that demonstrates that God’s body is different than the world, we’re going to see it when we have this spirit inside of us of hineni. But I’m telling you, it costs something.”

Trusting God's plan

She tells the incredible story of a troubled boy she adopted – she now has 10 children, most of them adopted. She tried to talk herself out of it because it felt too overwhelming, but God wouldn’t let her let it go. So they started talking by Skype every week, and she would sign off every time by telling him, “I am your mom, and I am coming for you. God has a plan, and we can trust it.”

When it was time to go to court to complete the adoption, however, he had a trauma trigger and was unable to speak when it was time for him to testify that he should become part of her family.

Finally, after Beth and Todd both tried to help him, after a long wait, he said, “I am their son, and they came for me. God has a plan, and I’m going to trust it.”

She tells another amazing story, of a dying woman praying over a picture of a girl that wound up on her wall through a series of coincidences that with God aren’t coincidences. When the woman’s son approached Guckenberger with it, she realized that the girl in the painting was her foster daughter, and this “prayer warrior” had been working with her from afar.

“This is how much He loves the lost sheep,” Guckenberger says.

It feels too soon, but Guckenberger is out of time. She no doubt will have more stories on her next visit. But before she goes …

“I woke up this morning, like, charged up (she pounds her palm) to say that I’m excited about what I hear going on in this community, I’m excited about what it means that you’re getting from here and taking out of here, I’m excited to hear about the ways that you’re loving on each other. Let’s continue to do that. Let’s continue to have a spirit of hineni and welcome any and all that He has for us before we even know what we’re saying yes to.”

● For a full replay of Chapel, including the music by the Chapel band, click here.

● Next Monday’s Chapel speaker is Noe Garcia of North Phoenix Baptist Church.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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Bible Verse

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

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