Nancy Nystrom, following the loss of her son, Fred, in 1994 founded The Children's Foundation, a 501c3 corporation located in Colorado. In 1995 Nancy founded The Mexican Civil Association Casa Hogar Los Angelitos for the purpose of rescuing and changing the lives of children in extreme circumstances. Today, Nancy continues as a child advocate in Mexico and the US as general director for Casa Hogar Los Angelitos and The Children's Foundation. Nancy lives with her husband, Dave Nystrom in their homes in Loveland, Colorado and Manzanillo, Mexico she is a mother of five and grandmother.
THE KEY OF HOPE STORY
September 27, 1994, my 28 year old son Freddy died. I have come to believe that there is no pain that can compare to the loss of a child. The days following his death were extremely difficult…sometimes a nightmarish fog…sometimes so real that I could not even breathe. The grief didn’t diminish. I prayed, I wept, I sought comfort from my bible and I spiraled into despair. The question always returned…why? Truly there was no comfort… not from family, loved ones, books, friends… every word spoken, every expression of sympathy, every comment seemed shallow and empty.
Even though I had other precious children… all grieving the tremendous loss…I felt that my life was over. How could I go on, when my child was dead?
I grew up in a family that had a strong faith, “evidence of things not seen”…
I always felt confident in my faith, in my promise of “eternal” life and God’s hand in all things… but, now I was facing a devastating reality. Why did my son die? What has happened to him? Where IS he? God, are you really real? Is this all there is? Will I see my son again? Those questions and the grief that accompanied them set me on a spiritual quest and journey that continues even to this day. Even though the following pages may seem long this is only a very small piece of that journey and the story that is weaving through my life;
On the third weekend after my son’s death, my husband decided to take me on a three day ‘escape’ trip…driving our motor home to a camp ground in the Colorado National Monument area, a beautiful and colorful canyon with dramatic views, wind twisted pine and cedar trees on the outskirts of Grand Junction, Colorado.
This weekend would begin the healing of my heart and eventually change the focus of my life.
I’ve been told that a person suffering from grief experiences many things that they can not always explain, some may be real, some perceived because of the tenderness of their spirit during this time. I know that I was not suffering from a psychological disorder other than the pain of grief. The things I have experienced since my son’s death are real to me. I can not give you spiritual reasons or scientific explanations. I can only assure you that I believe that these things were real and for a purpose and I will share with you what I know happened to me…
The evening of the first day of our stay in Colorado National Monument Park my husband and I went for a walk to the canyon Overlook. While standing there together in the quiet beauty of the area, I was jolted to hear a voice… a soft voice, but, clearly and purposefully speaking the words “Feed… My… Children”. I thought at first that it must be my imagination… I asked my husband “did you hear anything?” “A voice or anything?” No… so, I thought perhaps I am hallucinating, or going slightly crazy. I didn’t say anything else, but, kept these words in my heart.
The next afternoon as I was walking alone taking photos of some of the unusually shaped wind swept trees; I stopped to take a second look at a larger tree standing alone on the path. I stood back to take a second photo. As I stood there looking I heard the same voice and the same words “Feed… My… Children”.
This time I felt I had to take the experience seriously…determining that either I was suffering from effects of extreme emotional distress or that the voice was real and I needed to pay attention. I returned to our motor home and began researching every thing I could find regarding God speaking to someone. I read in John 21 where Jesus asked Peter… “Do you love me?”… Each time Peter affirmed his love and then Jesus gave three different responses… “Feed my lambs”… “Take care of my sheep”… “Feed my sheep”. I asked, “Is this what I’m looking for?”
But, the words I heard were so specific, “Feed… My… Children”, I had to keep looking.
When I read the Biblical story of Samuel and Eli in I Samuel 3, I saw that God called Samuel’s name, but, Samuel thought it was the priest Eli calling him. On the third time when Samuel went to Eli to respond Eli realized it was God calling Samuel and Eli gave Samuel instructions “If the Lord calls you, say…speak Lord, for your servant is listening”. I felt that was my answer… if, this was a voice from my own imagination I would not hear it again… but, if it were a call or voice of God’s Spirit, then I knew it would happen a third time and I knew how I would answer.
On the third afternoon, while resting and trying to read a book, I was again interrupted with the same soft voice and the same words… “Feed…My…Children”. This time I responded and said “Lord, I hear your voice, I am your servant and I am willing to do whatever you are calling me to do…but, I don’t know what you want me to do… and I don’t want to imagine or make up something that I suppose you want…so, I am asking you to be very clear with your instructions so that I am sure I am doing what You want.”
Weeks went by and I continued in my life of mourning. I didn’t forget the voice or the promise, but, I was determined not to force or try to find answers through my own ideas.
One very cold winter night in November with temperatures in the single digits, filled with grief and depression to the point of wanting to end my own life, I drove to a Wendy’s parking lot in the West Vail area. There was only one car in the lot, and I noticed the snow was stacked high to six or seven feet. I drove to the order window and ordered a frosty so that I could park without people wondering what I was doing. I parked next to the single car that was there…ice crystals forming on their windows, clear skies typical of this type of cold. I turned off my car and heater and sat for 30 to 45 minutes with tears pouring down my face, and crying out in painful prayer… “God, I have always believed that you are real, I have always had faith…but, now I need a sign…assurance that you ARE real…that my son is with you and that he is OK?”
As I lifted my head I looked at the windshield…drops of water began to stream down the windshield…drops like rain pouring from the sky. I looked at the car on my right side and it had ice crystals still on the windows…and no rain…I turned on my windshield wipers and tried to rationalize what might be happening. I knew it couldn’t have been snow melting off the roof of the car…not in four degree temperature… with the car and heater off. Then, almost as suddenly as it started it stopped and a sense of peace engulfed me, warmth spread through my body and in my spirit as I realized that God had given me a sign, He had answered my prayers… “Even the angels in heaven weep over the loss of a child”. Tears from heaven were falling on my windshield.
One day in late November I went to our gallery to work. It was the first time I had returned to work since Freddy’s death. Because it was such a slow time of the year in the Vail area I was alone most of that cold, snowy day. I had cried on my way to work and was hoping that no one would come in that day.
However, it was not going to be a day with out visitors. In the early afternoon I looked out the front window and saw a young woman striding purposefully up the walk. I thought to myself…she has a purpose; she is coming to buy something!
As we greeted each other with the familiar “How are you?” “Fine, how are you?” etc.
She looked at me and insisted… “How are you…really?” Surprised by the seriousness and intensity of her question I responded honestly by telling her that my son had died un-expectantly in September and some days were more difficult than others. Continuing to hold my attention she said, “I know, I felt the need to stop here today… there was someone who needed prayer…do you mind if I pray for you?”
I have to admit that, especially in a retail place of business I was uncomfortable with the idea of someone praying for me…and I glanced out the window again to make sure no one else was in the area before saying … “Please, go ahead”.
She began to pray and her prayer was very different than any I had heard before. She was praying about me and spoke of things that God was speaking to me, of things that had been part of my spiritual life since childhood, of things that no one knew but God…and me.
As she finished praying, we talked briefly, and then she put her hands over my heart and began to pray again. “God has placed a key in your heart” she said… “I don’t know the significance of the key, but, He will reveal this to you in time”. As she was speaking I was thinking of the other events that had happened to me in the past two months, and wondering what it might be that she was talking about…but, I didn’t mention those things to her. I was relieved when she finally stopped praying …but, then she knelt and began to pray again…over my feet… I thought “Oh, no…please don’t do that…not my size ten feet”. I had black cowboy boots on and felt that my feet must have looked ten feet long.
“Your feet will carry a message of HOPE and PEACE” she said. And I said… “Oh, Lord, please don’t send me to Africa…I’m too old!” She laughed and said… “Nothing was said about Africa, only that your feet will carry a message of HOPE and PEACE…God’s Spirit will give you the answer when the time is right.”
Several more weeks passed and I went on with my life…preparing for the Christmas season in Vail. One afternoon, the same young woman who had prayed for me came into our gallery through a door that goes into a separate area. I saw her at a distance and greeted her… as I walked towards her I saw the key that she had around her neck. Without knowing why, I pointed at the key and said… “Is that my key?” She looked surprised and held the key tightly, as if to protect it. Feeling foolish for making that comment, I started apologizing, “I was just kidding, and I don’t know why I said that.” She looked at the key, then closed her eyes as if in prayer, then looked at me and said “yes, this is your key”. I was embarrassed because she took what I thought was a joke very seriously… and I refused to take the key as she handed it to me. But, she insisted and said “It is your key…you must take it”.
As I held the key in my hand she said “now let me tell you the story of this key”. She began “One afternoon while in Salt Lake City, I had planned to meet with friends at a coffee house. When I arrived, I noticed a ‘street’ man waiting outside. He followed us in and stood at the table next to us. I felt compelled to invite him to join us for a cup of coffee. We talked for a few minutes and then he pulled out a map from his back pack.
He drew a circle in the center of the map where my home town is. Then he proceeded to tell me all the areas that I had been in my walk with God, the places I had traveled. He then drew lines to the center circle…and showed me that the path I had traveled was the shape of a cross. I asked him how he knew where I had been and what I had been doing. He smiled and said… ‘God sees what we do’. It was at that point I noticed the key he was wearing around his neck. I boldly grabbed it and said ‘Is that my key’?”
Continuing with her story she said “He looked at me, laughed, and took the key from around his neck to give it to me, saying… ‘Yes, this is your key’. He went on to say ‘This is a very special key, there are only two keys exactly like this in the world and I am giving this one to you… God will reveal the significance of the key to you and you will know when it is time to give it away.’ I thanked him and told him I would like to do something for him, but, ‘since I don’t have money, I would like to pray for you’. I stood to put my hands over his heart and began to pray ‘In a spiritual language’… then I immediately stepped back in awe. Sometimes God gives me the ability to see things in people’s hearts and what I saw when I put my hand over his heart was a beautiful golden Heart encircled with a golden band. Then I realized and said ‘I can not pray for you, I know who you are?’ He said nothing, but smiled.
“ Nancy”, she continued “I knew this man was not an ordinary man, but a messenger or ‘angel’ from God. I have had the key now for two years and the significance for me was in Revelations 3:7-8…
“These things saith He that is Holy, He that is True, He that hath the key of David,
He that openeth, and no man shutteth:
And shutteth, and no man openeth. I know thy works: Behold, I have set before
Thee an open door, and no man can shut it:”
As she concluded her story I examined the key closely. I saw an angel face and wings, a nine ball crown and seven arches…a beautiful and intricate key… but, no sudden revelations for me. I wore the key for the next few weeks, looking at it from time to time, searching for a special meaning and wondering if there was any truth to what I had been told.
Frustrated by my lack of inspiration or revelation regarding the significance of the key I asked a minister friend… “What does the number nine mean… in a spiritual sense?” He thought for a moment and then replied. “It does seem that in God’s universe and plan numbers have different significance, the number nine seems to represent God’s highest power. The number three representing the power of God in trinity…nine being a perfect number, three times three equals nine, three plus three plus three equals nine, nine times three equals twenty seven which added together still equals nine…etc” I was not particularly listening to all of the detail because the first statement seemed the most important… “That’s it” I said, “God’s Power!” But, what significance does it have for me… or with this key?
Little by little it seemed that God was revealing answers to me like pieces of a puzzle. I contented myself with this and waited for God to reveal more.
Several weeks later, I was once again in the gallery with two employees, a Native American man, a Jewish woman and myself a Christian… and we were discussing some unusual things that had happened in the past months. As part of that I was talking about the key, the number nine and how three plus three plus three (3+3+3) could represent God’s Power. Without thinking I said, “It’s like Jeremiah 33:3!” … “That’s it! That’s the significance of the number nine…three plus three plus three… the verse;
‘Call unto me, and I will show you great and mighty things, which you know not’
But, what is the significance of that for me?
The following months were full of unusual events that continued to add pieces to this large puzzle, but, it wasn’t until the following March, 1995 that the picture started to take clear shape.
In February, my husband and I drove from Colorado to Manzanillo, Mexico where we’ve had a home since 1983. One Tuesday afternoon in March, while resting and starting to doze, I was jolted “you have to build an orphanage here!” I sat up startled. As the thoughts flooded my mind I felt compelled to get off the bed, grab a pen and tablet and move outside to the upper terrazzo… I begin writing as quickly as I could as if God was speaking directly and clearly to me.
‘I have heard the cries of the children, and I will answer them…I (the Lord God)
will provide. I will touch the hearts of those who will come. It will be through My power, and My spirit that this will happen…each item, each person will be provided when the time is right.’
When I finished writing, I was exhausted and thought… “Where did this come from?”
But, in my heart…in my spirit I had no doubt where this had come from. These were not my ideas, these were not my plans, my designs, my desires…I had no doubt this was from God.
As I sat on the terrazzo, my husband still sleeping, I contemplated these things. It was during this time that a young friend, Felipe, came into the area that the terrazzo overlooks. I called him up to the terrazzo, eager to share the things that had happened, concluding with this latest experience. While I talked, Felipe was staring at me. I thought at first that he didn’t understand. He had such a strange look on his face. Then he said, “It is from God”. I answered, “Yes, I think so”. Then he said, “No, I mean it is an answer from God. Last night twenty three members of my family prayed for hours with our pastor that God would help us find a way to help the children of Manzanillo. He has answered our prayers!”
I said nothing to anyone else, other than my husband…wondering what was next.
A few days later I was jolted again from my afternoon rest, “Make the Key!”
Then I began to understand … the key I had been given could be made in silver by my friend Juan Sotelo and silversmith Jesús in Taxco, Mexico. The key could be sold with proceeds going toward the orphanage. Because I was told that there were only two keys exactly like this key I made the decision to replace the cherub’s face with a tear drop amethyst. The tear drop representing that cold night the ‘tear’ drops fell on my windshield.
The vision was firmly planted in my mind and on my heart. With faith and strength that can only come from facing a lack of faith and the weakness that comes from pain, I determined to begin moving forward trusting that God would do as He had promised.
In November of 1995 we began a food kitchen in the community of Salagua providing daily nourishment for over 125 extremely poor children while continuing with legal documents and permits to open the doors of an orphanage. We operated this food kitchen in two locations for four years. During those years we faced unbelievable resistance and road blocks…ridiculous rumors and legal harassment. Through all of this, even in the initial stage we were able to bring awareness to the community for the need to help the ‘street’ children, the extremely poor, the abandoned and abused. It was during the early years that God’s Spirit began moving in other areas… two different religious groups that had been waiting for as long as 20 years to do something realized ‘now is the time’. The city of Manzanillo began looking for ways to help the street children. People were becoming aware of the problems that many children in this area had to face every day.
I was asked to bring the vision and message “Feed My Children” to a church in Puerto Vallarta who took the vision and began a food program for children in Puerto Vallarta…now called ‘Children of the Dump’ feeding thousands of children, providing basic education for these children and promoting the concept that every child is important to God.
In June of 1996 we were finally able to get our paper work approved, and permission to open the doors of ‘Casa Hogar Los Angelitos’. Our first location was loaned to us. It was a retail building, located in downtown Santiago, with a garage door for an entry. The upstairs was used for a dorm and the main level which opened directly onto the street was remodeled for our kitchen, dining and work areas. Later we were able to add a small house for the use of our children. Both locations were adequate for a short time but we soon outgrew them.
Many of the children that we began caring for came with little or no formal education. Some had learning disabilities and emotional trauma because of the life they had been subjected to. When a teacher from the school referred to our children as “those burros from the casa hogar” I made a conscious decision that we would never allow the children to be thought of in that way again.
I realized during the early years of this work that providing nutrition for hungry children was life saving and important … Empty stomachs need to be filled. However, we needed to be able to provide more. It became clear that children could not move out of the devastation of extreme poverty and hopelessness and break that cycle without education, economic opportunity and hope for the future. No child chooses to be born in poverty…but, as it has been shown, “children learn what they live”… if poverty and abuse is all they know, that is all they expect. I knew that we needed to do more than to rescue children and fill their stomachs. We needed to fill their hearts and their minds as well… we needed to be able to change these children’s lives, give them choices, self esteem, tools for success and dreams to build a future.
After seven years of trying to construct a larger facility we decided to look for an existing property that would work for this project. In 2001 we were able to find a property that we felt would enable us to function efficiently while providing a warm and home type environment for the children.
As God promised, people have come forward from all areas to meet each need…sometimes at the ultimate moment, but, always the need has been met. When we needed legal help, a local attorney came forward and gave his services for eight years without charge. Our architect drafted plans and designs and gave advice for over twelve years without fees. God has provided dedicated workers who believe in the vision and the mission and who give from their hearts for these children. Volunteers have come and given their time and energy through out these years…different churches and organizations have taken the vision and commitment to make a difference in children’s lives.
When I think of the words that I first heard “Feed…My…Children” I realize that those words were not just about food for the stomach…they were about food for the heart, soul, spirit and life of these precious children. When a child cries out in anguish, it is sadness for the entire world. When a child cries out in joy, it is a joy that fills all of heaven.
Often we become so busy, so involved in the business of life that our spirit is closed and un-receptive. After my son died my spirit was open, tender and seeking God’s voice. I never had any desire or thought of opening a food kitchen, children’s home, or becoming an advocate for abused-and-abandoned-children. But, God saw something else in His plan for me…something different than the plan that I had designed for myself.
The vision that God put in my heart, to provide hope for desperate children, is without limit… Children, who have no hope, will begin to hope. Children who have no future will have a future… children whose lives will be changed, can change those around them … change their communities…then change their country.
We face daily challenges that, at times, seem overwhelming, yet, this vision continues to grow… programs and people continue to be put into place that will create a solid base, providing the foundation and opportunity for unlimited growth… enabling us to reach thousands of children in the future.
The accomplishments and events of these past years have not removed the pain in my heart. The loss of my son will always be there… yet, as I see the faces of all the children that we have rescued, clothed, fed, cared for and whose lives have been changed…when I realize that these feet truly have been able to bring hope and peace to many children who had no hope…then I find peace and comfort, even in loss.
The grief… the prayers… God’s message… and this very interesting key changed my life, and those around me. My life continues to change…as well as others who are called into this vision.
I believe we all have a mission and purpose… “a calling” for our lives. The vision and mission that I carry in my heart was manifested as a result of my son’s death. Now, many years later it seems clear to me that the helpless… the children…the orphans… are at the very heart of God.
Hopefully, it doesn’t take a tragedy to open your hearts to the vision and mission that God has planned for you.
“How blessed is he who considers the helpless.” Psalms 41:1
“Freddy, because you shared your life with us, and because God heard a mother’s prayers HIS love will flow out to all of these children giving them FAITH, HOPE, and PEACE. Thank you for letting us love you this way…and thank you, God, for loving us so much that you sacrificed your son for us.”