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The Heart of Juan Pablo

Editor's Note: Many of our readers will recognize Juan Pablo from previous stories in the Buckner Today magazine and on our website. Some may have even met him on a Buckner mission trip to Guatemala!

When Juan Pablo was a young child, he suffered an accident that left him badly burned and scarred. John and Emily Wiggins met Juan Pablo in an orphanage on a Shoes for Orphan Souls mission trip to Guatemala in 2006. Three years later, in December 2009, they finalized Juan Pablo's adoption and he came home. His father, John Wiggins, wrote this reflection and update on Juan Pablo's life in the U.S.

By John Wiggins

A little more than two years ago, Juan Pablo left Guatemala and arrived in Indiana with us, his new family and permanent home. We first met him when he was 3 years old and brought him home at age 7. Now he’s 9. His transition to living in a new place with his new family could not have been smoother. Though our adoption process spanned three years, we reflect on how God had shaped and prepared Juan Pablo’s heart to be able to leave what he knew as home to be joined to a new family and environment.

Big brother
Less than three months after coming home, Juan Pablo – now affectionately known as “JP” – welcomed home someone else – his new baby brother, Samuel. JP was thrilled at the thought of being an older sibling. We weren’t concerned about how JP would bond with his younger brother since he was commonly seen caring for the toddlers at the orphanage in Guatemala.

Sam is almost 2 now and his brother is his best friend. We are so amazed how JP commits time to his brother through playing with trains, reading books or wrestling around with their dog, Mala. We regularly hear them laughing together or at one another. In Sam’s eyes, JP is a hero.

Love of learning
The school day for JP takes place at home. Emily is a stay-at-home mom and a licensed teacher who focuses her gifts, experience and energy to educate her son. Once a week, they attend classes through a local homeschool co-op where JP learns with kids his age. Emily teaches Spanish class as part of that group, while other moms teach subjects such as Bible, public speaking, music, history and science. Science is JP’s favorite because he’s building a rocket.

JP is in second grade and has made great progress with his reading and learning English. He also has been playing piano for more than a year and has more recently been learning guitar with me. He has performed at a couple of small recitals and played a song at a local retirement home.

Play ball
If you have ever met JP, you know that he is kind-hearted, funny, a good dancer and quite energetic. With all his energy, we thought that it would be a good idea to use it constructively by playing sports. He loves any kind of sport but thrives in soccer. He has become a leader on the field and contributes a goal nearly every game.

In the spring of 2011, JP and his team won the season-ending tournament, but one of our proudest moments came during a game when the other team’s coach was yelling at his goalie to pick up the ball. The poor little girl didn’t understand what her coach was saying, so JP picked up the ball and gave it to her. He was penalized for his action in that play, but all the parents commented on his sweet heart. His heart always shines through.

After soccer season, JP plays baseball through the summer and has become a good hitter. During his first season and exposure to baseball, he was positioned in the outfield. Most little leaguers kick dirt around and pick up dandelions, but JP was always entertaining the crowd with his dancing during or after plays. He has matured as a player in the past year, during which he played third base and hit his first home run.

With all the activity we have discovered just how dirty boys can get. After telling JP to take a shower after a baseball game, he commented, “I don’t need a shower because my sweat washed all the dirt away.” He is always making us laugh. During the winter, JP participates in Boy Scouts and swims as part of a swim club.

A new smile
When we first met JP, he stole our hearts with his personality and joy despite carrying scars from an accident earlier in his young life. Our eyes were opened to see him just as Jesus sees him – without blemish and beautiful.

During JP’s first year with us in the United States, we visited a number of physicians at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, including a plastic surgeon. He recommended tissue expansion surgery to allow his face to grow as he grows.

In December 2010, JP had skin expanders inserted under his jaw line. Every week for a few months, JP returned to a clinic where the surgeon filled the tissue expanders to expand skin that would be moved halfway up on his cheeks and chin. In March 2011, the procedure was completed to remove the burns and attach the new skin. We are so happy with the results. The new skin allows JP’s skin to stretch into adulthood as well as grow facial hair.

Shortly after the procedure, JP commented how, unlike before, he had so much more feeling in areas on his face where the new skin was placed. A few months after the surgery, Emily caught JP smiling in the mirror and he commented on how he really likes his new smile. ‘Praise God’ is all we can say.

We have now begun a second expansion process that will wrap up with a surgery this spring. We have been teaching our son how God was with him during his accident and has great plans for him. We also stress that though this operation has helped him, he will always have scars and imperfections.

This has been a struggle for us. My wife, Emily, shared that one morning during school JP asked if he could have his new scars removed—the scars holding the new and old skin together. Our emphasis to him is to remember his significance in the sight of God his creator and his family who see him just as when we first met him. Emily cried out to God for help as to how to teach this complex concept to a 9-year-old.

Later that evening, we tuned in to the season premiere of “Dancing with the Stars.” The first contestant was J.R. Martinez, a military veteran who had been in a roadside explosion while stationed in Iraq. He was burned on his face and he went through numerous procedures similar to JP. He had a great testimony about being content despite what had happened to him. The women went crazy for him; He was an amazing dancer and ended up winning the show. What a great role model for JP and it was exactly the time we needed it.

God is so faithful. We are not parenting alone and when faced with a difficulty, all we need to do is ask and find that He is there to walk with us through any struggle. Like J.R. Martinez, JP has a great opportunity and platform to share his story to a watching world for the glory and sake of Jesus Christ. As parents, we hope to build up JP to maintain his compassionate heart and share God’s love with confidence to those who will hear him.

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