Saturday, October 20, 2012

Time Flies

We've been in Costa Rica exactly two months today. It's very strange to think that in just another couple weeks, we'll be into the month of November. With Thanksgiving staring down our throats and Christmas not far behind. And all of this while in another country.

Since our last blog post, life has fallen into a comfortable--and certainly busy!--routine. School 5 days a week, tests every two weeks (eep! So far so good, however), the fresh produce market on Saturdays, church on Sundays with pizza afterward. Our world has shrunk to the space of several blocks. But despite that, God has allowed us to touch the peoples' lives around us. The banana vender at the feria that always gives the kids a free banana each week. Our elderly "watchiman" who patrols our neighborhood streets each day. The young woman who meets with me each Wednesday to practice Spanish (and English for her). I pray that God gives us more opportunities to witness for Him.

Before you feel too sorry for us never leaving the city, we have had a couple opportunities to visit some of the surrounding areas. Last month, we went with almost the entire first trimester group to visit a nearby waterfall in the mountains outside of the city. The drive to the park was breathtaking, as were the falls. Then last week, we spent a weekend away at Arenal Volcano, about four hours away by bus. Located on the eastern side of the mountain range, the weather was far more typical of the heat and humidity we're used to, but it was gorgeous nonetheless. We all did something that none of us had ever dreamed of doing before--we zip-lined through the jungle canopy. Me! Despite my intense fear of heights! It was so freeing. The whole weekend was so refreshing for all of us--just what the doctor ordered.

I wish I could tell you that everything is wonderful and that we've experienced nothing but joy here in Costa Rica, but I can't honestly say that. We all have our moments of soul-crushing homesickness. Frustrations with learning Spanish (these, thankfully, have been fairly rare). We've met wonderful and forthright individuals who went out of their way to help us. And we've been taken advantage of as well by more unscrupulous individuals. But through it all, God has proven Himself sufficient. More than sufficient. Time and time again. I'm still in awe at the many ways He's blessed us in the last six months.

When I look back at where I was upon our arrival, and where I am today... I can conjugate present-tense verbs. My Spanish vocabulary is so much bigger than it was. I can give the "Tico" directions to our home. And I can carry on a basic conversation in Spanish. The thought of my professors teaching entirely in Spanish no longer terrifies me. Indeed, I can understand most of what they are saying. In just two months! I know I have a long way to go before anyone would ever consider me "fluent". But I'm still amazed at the progress made in such a short time. God truly has been good.

Definitely please keep praying for us as we learn Spanish. Pray for the kids as they are still adjusting to a different type of school than they've been accustomed to. Pray that the Lord will bring opportunities for evangelism to us. And finally, please pray for protection against the enemy. He'd like nothing better than to distract and discourage us at this time. We've heard so many stories of attacks on families while they're in language school preparing for full-time ministry. Please pray he won't gain any footing in our lives or the lives of the other students studying with us.

Thank you again! We could not do this without your prayers!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

When the Earth Moves

Yesterday began like a normal day. We got up at 6, everyone got showered and/or dressed for the day, we ate breakfast, the kids and I fixed their lunches, and we made sure all the previous day's homework had made it successfully back into the bags for the short trek to school. Just moments before we left the house, Troy huddled us all together and read the Psalm for the day (Psalm 5), then Cody led the family in prayer.

Here is Psalm 5 in its entirety:

Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.

In the morning you hear my voice... Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them... For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.

These are verses that were especially poignant to us later in the morning.

School begins at 7:30. After the first hour, we take a short break and move on to our second class. For me, that means staying in the same room for both hours (both hours make up my grammar class). My room is on the second floor of the building. With the windows open and the ceiling fan on, there is the most delicious breeze up there. Troy's two morning classes are downstairs (I believe his last 2 hours of the day make up his grammar class, but I'm not positive. As it always took me at least a month into a new semester during his seminary days to know his schedule, so it is here. I'm happy enough just to know my own!)

Just after we'd begun the second part of my grammar session, my desk started shaking. At first, I thought the man behind me had his feet on it and was really nervous about something. It was that soft. Then, the shaking became more intense and I realized with a jolt that he was not shaking my chair: we were experiencing our first earthquake! The first bit of it lasted just a few seconds, then it briefly stopped. We all looked at each other and at the teacher. He was perfectly calm, and looked as if he believed it was over. But it wasn't. When the room began very intensely shaking (I was actually getting quite nauseous at this point from the motion), my teacher marshaled us out the door. He remained calm throughout, but the sharpness in his tone relayed the urgency of the situation. As calmly as individuals who have never experienced an earthquake can be, we quickly walked down the stairs and congregated on the sidewalk in front of the building. I was immediately panicked for the children. Were they okay? Were they hurt? Were they as scared as I was? I felt a check in my soul about immediately rushing to them, and I believe that was a good thing. Troy is much calmer in emergency situations than I am, and as his class evacuated, instead of heading to the parking lot (which was what the rest of us were told to do), he immediately went to check on the kids. Because of his attitude upon discovering them ("Hey, guys wasn't that cool?"), the kids had a better initial outlook upon the situation than they would've if Mama had come flying down the stairs, gathering them all up in her arms and weeping over them.

Once the adults had gathered in the upper parking lot (our designated meeting place for emergencies) and the kids had gathered in the lower playground (their designated meeting place for emergencies), the adults met in the chapel to pray and to catch our breaths. Most of the Spanish teachers are women, many mothers concerned about their own children. It was at that point that someone looked up the information. That the epicenter was in a town on the NW Pacific coast (about 88 miles from San Jose), that it was a 7.6 on the Richter scale, and that due to its location, a tsunami warning had been issued up and down the Pacific coast from Mexico to Peru. Thankfully, it was cancelled shortly afterward without any tsunamis reported. We rejoiced that, aside from some books that fell off the shelves in the library and a few clocks that fell off the wall, there was no damage to the campus. There were no injuries, and everyone was okay. What a miracle!

I couldn't help but remember the Psalm Troy had read just a few hours before. God had indeed been our refuge and our shield during the earthquake. He protected us from harm. He protected the campus from harm. In all of Costa Rica, there was only 1 death reported, and that was a heart-attack due to fright! Praise the Lord! Yes, there was some damage closer to the epicenter, and so we need to keep those families and communities in our prayers as they work to clean up and rebuild.

Our own home didn't come out of it completely unscathed either. During the earthquake, our hot-water pipes (we have a regular, full-sized water heater, something that is extremely rare in Costa Rica) burst and flooded our first floor. If it weren't for the large gap underneath the front door and the fact that our front terrace slopes down to the street, we would've come home to a real mess! As it was, water filled the utility room, the downstairs bathroom, the kitchen, the front bedroom, and then the living room before pouring out underneath the front door. As God would have it, our next door neighbors do most of their language study through tutoring, and so they were all at home during the quake and noticed water first trickling in the street in front of our house and then gushing. We still have not gotten a cell phone, so they called the school and someone at the school found Troy and brought him to the house so he could let them in. Someone else called our landlord, who came right over. Our neighbors and several other families as well all came over to help in the cleanup. By the time school let out early and the kids and I came home about an hour or so later, the 2-3 inches of water in our house was gone (yay for tile floors and squeegees! I don't even want to think how badly it would've been if we'd been in the States with carpet or wooden floors!), the landlord's furniture was upended so that it could dry, and several fans were placed throughout the first floor to help speed the drying process. Of everything that could have been ruined (mostly electronics), only the power cord for our computer was ruined! Everything is back to normal in the house, with only a couple fans left running to dispel the moisture from the hard-to-reach places. I am so thankful for our ILE family who rushed into action to help us in our time of need. We truly are blessed to be here among such amazing brothers and sisters in Christ.

While the furniture dried, we decided to do something fun, and so hopped in a couple taxis and went to eat lunch at the mall food court (Wendy's burgers and Frostys taste exactly like those back home! Yay!). After lunch, we walked through one of the department stores and saw that they had not been as fortunate during the earthquake. In their home section, there were glasses, vases, and picture frames broken. There was glass on the floor where they hadn't yet had a chance to clean. Some of the glasses in displays had tipped over into other glasses and shattered. It was a mess.

At home, we let the kids eat the sandwiches they'd prepared for lunch and then Mama made a double batch of the Ghirardelli brownies (a store called Price Smart sells a huge box of brownie mix. You get 6- 8x8 pan-sized packets, or 3- 9x13 pan-sized packets in each box, depending upon how big a batch you want to make) that are soooo good. If we always do ice cream after painful medical procedures, I figured something warm and sweet was in order after a major disaster.

For the most part, while we didn't enjoy the fright of the experience, most of us realized that it was not something that would be repeated. We might feel aftershocks, but we knew they wouldn't be as severe as the original quake. We also weren't expecting a quake with each loud sound (earthquakes are quite loud!). But as the day progressed, it became clear that some of the kids--Tori in particular--was actually quite terrified of a repeat performance. Every little sound spooked her. To top it all off, we had quite a thunderstorm last night--something else that just freaks her out. Between the storm and her terror over the earthquake and that another one would come, or that something would fall on her head, it was quite a long time before she was able to get to sleep. I even appealed to many of you and our other supporters and friends on Facebook, asking for prayer for her and for the other kids. At about 11 PM, she came into my room literally shaking in fear. I had her snuggled under the covers with me and spent about 15 minutes holding her tightly and praying over her silently. I rebuked the fear and Satan's attempt to paralyze her with that fear. I prayed God's peace over her, especially that God would fill her with a soothing peace and calmness to help her immediately be able to rest. She went back to her bed and I did not see her the rest of the night. She told me this morning that as soon as she laid down, she went right to sleep. Praise God for answered prayer! Thank you for praying for Tori especially. God answered our prayers for her last night!

This morning, it became clear to me that she was not the only one who'd been struggling with fear during the night. One of the boys said to me when I came downstairs, "Mama! We're still alive!" I pray that as each day passes, the fear that we will have another earthquake, or that things will fall on them in their sleep lessens and passes. I pray that my children--all of us--remember our verses in Psalms.

Yesterday, when the earth moved, God was our very real refuge and shield. Praise God! Let us remember that any time our world seems to move--whether literally or because of situations or circumstances beyond our control.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

(The following is a blog entry I made this evening on my writing blog.)

This morning was our second Sunday here in Costa Rica. Back home, we come from a very traditional church with excellent music. If it's particularly rousing--if--we might clap a bit. We lean a bit more toward the "high church" side of things. And this is what I've been accustomed to for almost the whole of my life.

I would never classify the church we've attended here as "high". And if you've ever attended worship in a Latin American church, you know that it's anything but docile. It's quite rousing. You can tell the new missionaries, or the ones who are more accustomed to the high church setting. We stand there, hands to the side (or firmly thrust in pockets), and participate as best we can in an unfamiliar language. Boy, do we stick out like a sore thumb.

There was another new family, whose first time attending was this morning. Indeed, this was their first Sunday in country. I delighted in watching as their young daughter worshiped. She clapped. She jumped up and down. Most importantly, she wore the most beautiful smile of joy on her face as she participated in worship with our Costa Rican brothers and sisters. I think she was greatly disappointed when the worship portion of the service was over.

Several of us are a bit more bashful in new settings and can appear a bit stand-offish. Not intentionally, of course. We just struggle with new things and not knowing what to do or say. This morning, I am happy to say that I was prepared for the Costa Rican greetings and leaned right in for the hug and kiss on the cheek that is customary. I was prepared for it. In fact, I only stuck my hand out for a handshake for those who first stuck theirs out. Anyway, after the song service, the kids are dismissed to attend children's church. Some of the kids were a bit more wiling to do this than others. But our new little friend? She was excited to meet new people! Her mom told me after church that she walked around telling everyone what her name was! It was if she didn't know the concept of a stranger. To her, these were not "strangers"; they were simply new friends to be made.

And it struck me that this is yet another example of why Christ admonishes us to be like little children. Their willingness to do new things, try new things, say new things--without fear of embarrassment is truly something we should strive for. There are not strangers, simply new friends to be made--especially friends who love Christ. And they have a willingness to abandon all cares of what they look like to others and throw everything they have into worshiping God.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

First Day of Orientation and a Mini-Adventure

This morning was new student orientation for Sojourn Academy, the school the kids will be attending on the same grounds as the language school. We arrived at 9:40 for a tour of the grounds, then assembled in the chapel for the presentation. Cody, Tori, and Clayton all got to meet their teachers. As a seventh-grader, Tayler will have many teachers; we did not get to meet them all today. All of the teachers, however, are extremely friendly. Tomorrow begins our orientation sessions, and while we're attending ours, the kids will have a few more days of orientation material they will cover as well. School officially starts for them on Monday, and for us on Tuesday (one week from today).

After the morning's session, we decided to walk down to the bank and then on to a McDonald's located a little less than a mile from the school. Keep in mind that these are busy streets, some with sidewalks, but some not. When there aren't any sidewalks, we try to keep as far to the side of the road as we can, and try to walk single file (one of the adults leading, and the other bringing up the rear). However, as far as we tried to stay from the road, it didn't feel far enough this afternoon when a semi truck blew right past us.....WAY too close for comfort! In order to reach the McDonald's, we had to cross the busy round-about (imagine a game of Frogger), and then get across the street again to reach the golden arches.

McDonald's in San Jose is very similar to any McDonald's in the States except for a few differences. The ever-popular McCafe is not a regular menu option---but an entire little coffee shop within the McDonald's! You can buy pastries, and all types of flavored coffees. It's a regular Starbucks experience. The play place is upstairs (we didn't go there because there were a bunch of high-school aged Costa Rica kids). Chairs are grouped very closely together and it was a bit disconcerting to have two men sit down right next to us at a table when there were other tables open. I felt like I should be introducing myself and offering to share my fries. Something to get used to, I guess.

Following lunch, we raced across the street (another opportunity to play Frogger) to the Pecueno Mundo (Little World), a store specializing in a bunch of household items and assorted merchandise. We picked up almost everything else on our list that we needed for the house (lamps, fans, decorative elements, etc.) and saw a bunch of really pretty Asian jewelry boxes, baskets, and vases. Since none were essential to setting up our home, those remained at the store. We filled two shopping carts full of items, then headed outside to try and flag down a taxi to bring us home. An employee was especially helpful in assisting us in this process, and went so far as to call a taxi company for us. When the first driver arrived and saw how much stuff we had (which fit in the trunk of his taxi) plus the six of us, he called for another cab. The really nice thing about this driver is that he insisted upon waiting for the second taxi to arrive so that we could all go together--and refrained from starting the meter! (As there was at least a 10 minute wait, and since he had been so gracious to us, we did give him a nice tip. Usually, you don't tip the drivers, but in this instance, we felt it was appropriate.)

A taxi ride through town is an adventure in itself. Especially when there are left turns with no traffic light. In the States, you line up behind cars waiting to turn left and then patiently wait your turn. Not here! Sometimes, if the drivers (and the taxi drivers are particularly this way) think you're taking too long to turn, or you have missed too many opportunities, they will pull up alongside you--sometimes even two and three abreast!--all trying to turn into one lane! Eep! You just hang on and, at worst, close your eyes and say a prayer for safety. I have never in my life heard so much honking of horns. I thought it was bad in Jackson, but Jacksonians are tame compared to Costa Rican drivers and their horns!

I've gotten very good at saying "no habla Espanol", but I really do look forward to the day I'm able to communicate--at least somewhat--with the people here. For the most part they've been very friendly and most will go out of their way to help you (like the PM employee and the taxi). I am also extremely thankful for Troy's Spanish base. That has been a huge blessing.

Please continue to pray for us as we begin our orientation tomorrow and for the kids as they prepare for the start of school. There's lots more to come from Costa Rica!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Costa Rican Chinese Food

All week, we'd planned to find a restaurant where we could enjoy Costa Rican cuisine after church. When we'd last visited Mexico in 2008, one of the couples had a little Mexican sandwich shop they visited most Sundays after church. I really liked the idea of having a place we regularly went to on Sundays, giving us the opportunity to really get to know the owners and workers there. Relational evangelism is very effective in Latin American countries.

So after church, we came home and changed clothes, then set out on an adventure to find a Costa Rican restaurant. In hindsight, we should've done a bit of planning during the week to figure out just where the open restaurants where. Or, at the very least, we should've asked one of the two missionary couples we met at church. But we didn't. We were "winging it" for sure.

It had begun sprinkling on the way home from church, so we grabbed our umbrellas and began our trek. The sodas were not open. And on the street we selected, there were not a lot of options. There was an open-air bar/restaurant, but we weren't quite sure about that one. Was it more restaurant....or more bar?

Finally, we settled on a Costa Rican Chinese restaurant. That just seems like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Costa Rican Chinese food! About the only thing Chinese in the restaurant were the pictures on the wall and the food names. Even the food items themselves weren't anything like their American cousins. The sweet and sour chicken, for example, was very tasty. But it was not exactly like sweet and sour chicken I'm used to. (And don't get me started on the egg rolls!) Perhaps the best tasting dish was the kids' fried rice plate with chicken, onion, and pineapple. It was delicious! But again, we were a bit lost in translation, so we ended up ordering WAY more than we actually could eat. The nice thing about this is that we have leftovers for another meal.

We set out from our house, determined to have an adventure. And we definitely found one. Next week, I think we'll do a bit more homework ahead of time and have a few places scoped out. We are, after all, still on a quest to taste authentic Costa Rican cuisine. We've been here a week now and it has eluded us. Maybe next Sunday will finally be the day we get to sample some.

And if not, we know where we can get some good Costa Rican Chinese food.

Lost in Translation....But Where We Want to Be

Yesterday was our first worship service in Spanish. We visited a Spanish-speaking Nazarene church not far from Parque el Bosque, about a 15 minute walk from our house. Some missionary friends of ours (folks who also graduated from the same college we attended) referred us to the church and even specifically asked several people they knew to "watch out for" our family and help us feel welcomed. What a blessing!

In Latin America, things either start on time or on "Latin time" (which means things are a bit more laid back and schedules are not closely adhered to). We knew that church was scheduled to begin at 10, but we didn't know if that was the "scheduled time" or "Latin time", so we decided to arrive a bit early just in case. We needn't have worried. We could probably leave our house closer to 10 AM and still be on time. :-)

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by several church members, including the pastor. Greetings here are slightly different than they are at home. If you haven't seen folks in awhile at home, or are very close to them, you might hug. But usually a touch on the arm or handshake suffices. Not here! When people greet each other (even when meeting strangers for the first time, as we discovered yesterday!), you lean in and kiss each other on the cheek! I'd been notified of this on Saturday but had completely forgotten about it. So it was a bit of a surprise for me, and a bit awkward for the poor church members. We'll do better next week. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming, which helped.

There is a very long worship service with lots of upbeat music and energetic clapping. I'm really not much of a clapper, so it will take some time for me to "loosen up" enough to really get into Latin worship. That's not to say my heart wasn't in it. Quite the contrary! I may not have understood the words, and most of the songs were foreign to me (we did sing two familiar songs. What a relief to be able to recognize the music! I could even sing along in English in my head), but the spirit of worship present in the church captured my heart nonetheless. At one point, it really occurred to me where we were standing and I instantly teared up. We have spent the last four years preparing for ministry in Mexico. And yesterday, we were actually in a place that would help us get there. As much as we love our home church, it is not Mexico. Our hearts have been drawn to Mexico since our first missions trip there. Costa Rica isn't Mexico, either. But we were worshiping in our brothers and sisters in the country of our heart.

All of our waiting has come to an end. We may not have understood everything said yesterday (although of course, Troy understands quite a bit as a former Spanish speaker, and can communicate amazingly well for someone whose Spanish is so rusty), but there was an overwhelming conviction that we are exactly where we need to be. Where God has placed us. And where we want to be.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New Experiences

This week has been chalk full of new experiences for each member of the family. Here's a break down of our first week:

Monday: Flight to Costa Rica via Atlanta. The kids' first plane rides. After our arrival and a bit of a rest, we embarked upon our first trip to a Costa Rican Walmart. It is very similar to it's American counterpart. However, here there is really no rhyme or reason for the placement of the goods in the store. Clothes are right next to the food court (that alone is different -- there is a huge food court with several different American fast-food restaurant options inside), next to batteries, next to electronics, next to towels, next to hardware. And the sugar is not in the baking aisle. Unless you go there often enough to become familiar with the store (and due to the high costs, we will not -- there's another difference; Walmart here has more department store prices than American Walmarts), it's best to just start at one end and work your way to the other.

Tuesday: Our big brother took us to a couple stores, one kind of like a Home Depot (I don't remember the name), and the other a small neighborhood grocery. After lunch, he took Troy and another couple shopping at the Price Mart (like a Sam's Club). I got a little bit of unpacking completed. Had our first taste of Costa Rica pineapple (sooooo good!) and baby bananas.

Wednesday: Our first trip to Parque Copa, where most of the missionaries hang out. It is absolutely beautiful! The view from that park is nothing like anything we've seen before. We learned a very hard lesson, however. Due to our proximity to the equator and/or the altitude (I'm not really sure), it is essential to apply sunblock whenever you plan to go outside. After spending the morning walking around and then about an hour hanging out at the park, we came home burnt to a crisp! Quite a bit of the unpacking was completed.

Thursday: Troy went with our Mexico City teammate, Jonny, back to Walmart. Hiring a cab and getting around is a bit easier for Troy, as he was formerly fluent in Spanish. Much of his conversational Spanish is beginning to come back. In the afternoon, he and the kids walked through the area around our house, peeking in and out of the shops and picking up some more groceries and supplies. I was thrilled when they surprised me with a teapot and later, some flowers. They also brought home some of the most delicious bread I have ever tasted, fresh from a local bread shop.

Friday: We walked several blocks to the Jumbo (imagine a Kroger) for our groceries. What an experience! I was surprised by how many American brands there were, and most of the produce was at least recognizable. It is still disconcerting for me to have people speak to me in rapid-fire Spanish, expecting me to answer. I'm sure my eyes glaze over and there must be a most vacant expression there. The day when I can understand and respond back to them will be a most welcome day. I've gotten very familiar with the phrase "no comprendo - no habla espanol." I'm also not accustomed to hearing salsa music played over the grocery store's sound system, nor am I accustomed to seeing a man from the store walking around with a microphone, announcing what I can only assume are the specials. (You'd think after my experiences with the singing meat-market guy at Kroger, this would be old hat.) Perhaps the absolute strangest thing that happened occurred before our excursion to the grocery store. I was checking email in the living room, with the front door open to let in air (we have a screen door). The front gate was locked and dead-bolted, so I wasn't concerned about people walking in. When I looked up, however, I noticed this older man walk slowly past the left side of our gate and then stop at the door in the gate, look up at our house, and just stare at the house. He didn't knock or try to come in. He just stared. Then, after several minutes, he moved slowly on. Folks have told me not to be concerned, that it happens. It just was very weird. In Jackson if someone so obviously "cases" your house, it's never a good thing. Perhaps my proudest moment yesterday, however, came just after the old man walked on. Another man came to the gate and knocked on it, clearly wanting something. Knowing that Troy was upstairs finishing getting dressed, I yelled out the open door, "una momento!" and raced up the stairs. I was about half-way upstairs before realizing what I'd said. Without any forethought at all, my brain conjured this simple Spanish phrase, and it shot out my mouth before I could think twice about it. (I probably should've added "por favor", but again, there was no rational thought put into it.)

Saturday (today): We've had a big day already. This morning, we walked to a farmer's market with our big brother and his family for our fresh produce for the week. At the park, tables snaked back and forth up a hill, some covered with tents, some not. On the tables were all kinds of fruits, most recognizable. Thankfully, Mark had given us a sheet listing all the English names of the fruits and vegetables with their Spanish translations (including articles -- I'd have no idea if something is "el" or "la" otherwise). There were so many to choose from! Corn. Red beans. Black beans. Green beans. Onions. Garlic. Ginger. Celery. Lettuce. Tomatoes. Pineapple. Apples. Strawberries. Cherries. Mangoes. Watermelon. Carrots. Potatoes. All kinds! We settled on the necessary vegetables (potatoes, onion, garlic, beans) and decided that we'd alternate which fruits we buy each week. This week we bought strawberries, apples, peaches, and plums. We already have some watermelon and a pineapple, so we didn't guy those. Next week we want to try mango, grapes and cherries. There were also little fruits called King Kong Boogers (!). I haven't the foggiest what those taste like, or what they are most similar to. They are small, lightweight, and have a bunch of seeds inside. If you shake them, you can hear the seeds rattle. There's also a fruit that looks like a sea anemone on the outside. You cut it open and inside is a single fruit that looks like a large grape. It is soooo slimy! The texture is almost impossible to get past, but if you can, they are actually quite good. Next week we'll try to bring our camera to the market and get some pictures. This afternoon, we're meeting our teammates, Jonny & Gemma, and their family at Parque Bosque and taking taxis over to a "mall" for some hang-out time. For supper, we'll eat at one of the American fast-food restaurant options in the mall food court.

Tomorrow, we'll be worshiping for the first time in Costa Rica. I'm not sure yet where we'll head, or with whom. We're hoping to find a restaurant nearby where we can sample some Costa Rican cuisine after church. Monday is our last free day before orientation. And then the week after next, school officially beings.

Many new experiences await.

UPDATE: One of the strangest things I've seen since we arrived would most definitely be the live mannequins at the mall. In front of the stores are pedestals. And on them, dressed in merchandise from the store they are standing in front of, are people posing as mannequins! Some of them are so good they almost appear plastic. One guy held his pose--without blinking!--for the longest time! I cannot even begin to imagine the physical shape you have to be in to be able to hold poses like that!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


I'm thankful that wandering around the neighborhood is an exciting adventure for Troy. I vastly prefer the "one-stop" shopping you can find in the States, but that is not the way things are done here. You want some meat? Go to the little meat shop (some must be avoided at all costs--the trick is learning which ones are the good ones and which ones will, er, not agree with our American bodies). While you're out, you can get some freshly baked bread at a bread shop (and oh, is it good!). Need some tools our housewares? Go to the hardware store. Is it some toiletries you need, or a bill that needs to be paid? Stop by the pharmacy. And then for general groceries, there are markets in various sizes to accommodate your needs. All of these things are conveniently located right on the same main boulevard (you might just need to do a bit of walking to reach them). Oh, and fruit and veggies! If you want really fresh produce, go to the "farmer's market" in one of the local parks each Saturday! Obviously, this is profoundly different than what we are used to.

This morning, Troy shared a taxi with Jonny, our Mexico City teammate (we are blessed to be going through language school together!), and the two of them shopped at Walmart. Once at least one of us is more comfortable with Spanish, Jonny's wife, Gemma, and I plan to leave the Daddies at home with their respective kids to have our turn shopping sans children.

After lunch, he and the kids all decided to do a bit of exploring. They wanted to go to some of these shops and visit others along the busy street a few blocks from our house. They had great fun avoiding the periodic rain showers, stopping for Cokes, and discovering a heavenly-smelling bakery. They managed to lug home a couple 2.5 liters of soda, a small watermelon (!), another pineapple, a carton of milk....and a new teapot for me! I never imagined that having a teapot so that I could make hot tea would be that important to me. But to my great surprise, it has been. It's been the one item (besides fans) that has made it onto every single one of our shopping lists over the last couple days. Go figure.

I did not join the expedition because of the horrific sunburn I acquired yesterday at the park. (It looks bad. And it doesn't feel all that great, either.) Troy believes it's faded somewhat, so we are planning on venturing out again tomorrow morning in the search for one particular store.

And of course we will be sure to apply the sunblock. In liberal quantities.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto!"

San Francisco de Dos Rios, the district where we live (kind of a suburb of San Jose) is definitely not the States. The views from the local parks here in Costa Rica alone are nothing like those from the local parks back home. Here is a list of some of the things that are different (not worse, just different).

1. Obviously, English is not the designated language.

2. You must dispose of used toilet paper in a trash can. Never flush it. Well, unless you don't mind clogged pipes.

3. You can actually drink the water here. This is not different than home (although the water actually tastes better here. Go figure), but it is different than in Mexico. We wouldn't dream of drinking the water there. At least not until we'd been living there for years and years and years.

4. You can develop a full-on sunburn in about 30 minutes. Ouch.

5. Running errands means you went to one (or at most, two) stores. Especially when you are without a car.

6. Everyone lives behind locked gates and bars. The flip side of that is that I have never in my life felt more safe.

7. No grass to mow!

8. You do not fill your sink and use a squirt of dish soap to wash dishes. You dab a wet sponge with this green goo (that's rather gritty in texture) and wipe your dishes clean with that before rinsing and stacking to dry.

9. Some things are more expensive. Like the $20 box fan that costs twice that here for the same fan.

10. The Walmart is more like a mini-mall with it's own food court (filled with American fast food restaurants!).

11. Fresh. Fruit. 'Nuff said.

12. "Gringo catchers". Imagine a manhole without the cover. Why you have to pay attention to where you are walking!

13. There is a rainy "season".

14. The scenery!

15. Costa Rican colones are really quite pretty, and are very colorful. (Not like the plain, somewhat ugly American dollars.)

16. "Raid" bug spray smells like "Mellow Yellow" soda. With a nicer smell than some air fresheners I've used in the States, I'm thinking of using it to freshen the air in our house. It can also serve to keep bugs away at the same time.

17. And speaking of soda, "soda" is a place to eat here, not a beverage.

18. Dora the Explorer speaks Spanish, but teaches kids English words. And her squirrel friend, Tico, speaks English. (So glad for those few words I've learned from Dora over the years.)

19. Watching cartoons in Spanish isn't as weird as watching other live-action shows that have been dubbed over. Especially when you know what the actors are actually supposed to sound like.

20. The sun comes up at 6 AM and sets at 6 PM. Year round. Makes sleeping in a challenge, but will help us all wake up on time for school.

21. In some stores, when you drive through the gate you get a ticket. Once you exit the store's gate, you return it.

22. Also in some stores, someone is posted at the door to inspect your purchases and make sure you're walking out with what you paid for. Or, if you walk into the store with other bags, you "check" them during your stay in the store. Cuts way down on the shoplifting this way.

23. Tico children never climb trees. Never. And they think we gringos are strange for allowing our children to do so.

24. There are no street addresses. You just have to be able to describe to someone how they can get to your house via distances and house colors.

25. Time is not "worshiped", as it often is in the States. Costa Rica (and Latin America in general) is very laid back.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Long-Awaited Day

Yesterday, August 20, we flew to San Jose, Costa Rica. So many amazing things happened--miracles, really--that I want to share. This will be a long post, so beware. Troy worked all through the night Sunday night and all the way up to about 3:15 AM Monday finalizing the packing. All told, there were seven pieces of luggage and seven totes.

While waiting for Troy to arrive at the hotel, the kids and I spent a few minutes praying together. How precious to hear my children praying for our future ministry here in Costa Rica. After a speedy shower, we headed to the airport in Jackson. Upon our arrival out front around 4:30 AM, we were greeted by a man from our home church who had come to see us off! We were so touched that he would get up that early just to say goodbye to our family! All of the pictures from this earliest stage of the journey were ones he took for us. I began the bag check-in process while Troy took the borrowed pickup over to the long-term parking area.

With great trepidation, I watched each piece of luggage as it was placed on the scale and weighed. 47 pounds....49 pounds....48 was even 50 pounds (the allowed limit). My genius husband had packed each suitcase or tote in such a way to allow maximum usage without incurring over-the-limit fees. The man weighing all of the bags had just completed the process when Troy walked in. With dread, I asked the man helping us at the ticket counter how much we owed for the baggage. We had two extra pieces than we thought were allowed, so we figured the fees would be astronomical (we guess about $500). Imagine my shock and great surprise when he looked at me and stated, "Nothing." I stood there in complete shock, tears filling my eyes. I don't know how it came about, but somehow God worked a miracle there.

Aside from the GPS in one of the backpacks that completely threw off the TSA agents (they rescanned that thing at least 3-4 times. Why they didn't just open it an look through it, I'm not sure), security was a breeze. By the time we used the bathroom and arrived at our gate, we only had about a five minute wait before we were allowed to pre-board. Here's another instance of God going before us. Originally our seat assignments were not together and we were planning on asking to be switched. But when we printed out our boarding passes, ALL OF OUR SEATS WERE TOGETHER. We literally filled up an entire row--three on one side and three on the other! The gate attendant announced that they hadn't gotten the plane they were originally supposed to get, but ended up with a larger one. God's handiwork! The girls and I sat on one side of the aisle and Troy and the boys sat on the other. I think I'll let them share on their blog about what they thought of their first flights, but it was precious to hear their "ooohs!" and "aaahs!" throughout the experience.

I'd long been dreading the flight into and out of Atlanta because of all the horror stories I've heard of that particular airport. Plus, knowing that we literally had to go clear across the terminal to get to our next gate---in just over an hour---really sent me into a panic. We hustled as quickly as you can with small children pulling carry-on luggage and bogged down with heavy backpacks to the "train". After one of the girls were almost left behind (Troy realized what was about to happen and stepped out; the other passengers rallied around us and forcibly held open the doors so they could both quickly step in and yank the luggage behind them), we realized the hard way that those bars are placed there for a reason. Those trains start and stop in such a rush that those who weren't holding on careened into the wall or against fellow passengers. A dear woman grabbed onto Tori for me and said, "I've got her, Mama," to which I was extremely grateful. We arrived at our gate in plenty of time for our flight.

Once again, all of our seats were together---this time at the literal back of the plane. We settled into a longer plane ride, roughly 3 hours, and the kids enjoyed many more firsts: first time to use the headphones and watch an on-board movie, first time for plane snacks (our short flight from Jackson to Atlanta was too bumpy for snack service), and the first time to use the tiny plane bathrooms (well, that was a first for Mama as well, actually). It was so beautiful to look out the window at first the Florida keys and then the open Gulf water. About an hour into our flight, Troy and I looked at each other, both of us clearly overwhelmed emotionally. We were feeling a mixture of exhaustion, sheer joy, relief that all of the hard work of the summer was behind us, but at the same time, utter terror of the unknown. He said to me, "What did we just get ourselves into?" And I knew the sentiment, because it was exactly what I'd been feeling. It's one thing to say that we're called to minister in Mexico, or attend language school in Costa Rica. It's another thing to actually do it.

Once we arrived in San Jose, we waited until nearly everyone had deplaned before getting off. The first stop was through immigration. We snaked through the line, waiting about 20-30 minutes for our turn with an immigration official. Our paperwork was fine. Our passports were fine. But we didn't know our address. The thing is, there are no street address in Costa Rica. Here, "address" refers to which area or district you live in (we are in the San Francisco de dos Rios district.) I had printed out the paper our Big Brother sent us with this information on it, but it had gotten packed in one of the totes. Thankfully, Troy had a piece of paper with the information of a market near the language school on it and the official was able to discern about where we would be. After about 10-15 minutes spent trying to get that all figured out, she stamped our visas and cleared us through to the baggage area.

We were anxious to see if all of our luggage had arrived with us. At the Jackson airport, Troy had wrapped a bit of hot pink duct-tape around each of the handles on our suitcases. Turning the corner to the baggage area, there were several hot-pink suitcase handles grouped together off to the side, and two men were loading the seven totes onto a large cart. Troy finished rounding up the luggage and counted pieces. I counted pieces. The kids counted pieces. Our next miracle was that ALL PIECES OF CHECKED BAGGAGE ARRIVED WITH US IN COSTA RICA!

The next stop was customs, and I was dreading it. Sometimes they will wave you through. Sometimes they'll open a piece of luggage or two and then wave you through. But sometimes they'll insist upon opening every piece. Sometimes you won't pay any "duties" for your luggage. But sometimes they'll make you pay quite a lot. And there's no predicting how it will go. We had our backpacks and carry-ons, and the man pushed the rest of our luggage on the cart. At the security checkpoint, he handed the customs sheet we'd filled out on the plane to another man and unloaded each piece onto the conveyer. On the other side, he loaded it back onto the cart and off we went. I figured that it was just the first step in the customs process. So imagine my shock when we rounded a corner....and were outside the airport! Our last miracle of the day was that we MADE IT THROUGH CUSTOMS WITHOUT PAYING ANY DUTIES OR WITHOUT THEM OPENING A THING!

With everything that has happened this summer in preparing to get here, and then with everything that happened yesterday in actually arriving, it is quite clear to us that we are where we are supposed to be, at the time ordained by God. There are some things to get used to, of course. While many people speak at least broken English, this is most definitely a foreign culture with a foreign language. We've already discovered that you can get just about anything you want (including most brands from the States, and even most fast-food restaurants. We've seen places like Church's Chicken, Burger King, McDonald's, we ate Pizza Hut pizza for dinner last night, there's a Papa John's, Taco Bell, Subway, and many more--many of those options right inside the Walmart!), but it costs. A lot. A simple box fan that costs $20 in the States costs at least $40 here. A small package of Hershey's Kisses is between $6-$8. Spending more for basic necessities is just going to be something we have to get used to. At the same time, you can't put a price on the views we see from our second-floor balcony.

There will be so many other things to share with you throughout the next year. I wanted to include more pictures from yesterday, but for some reason, I can't get it to post more than one. So I'll upload them to our Photobucket account and share the link to that album so that anyone can see them.

Thank you for your prayers and support. You helped make this possible for us. And your continued prayers and support will enable us to thrive as we learn Spanish and adjust to living in a new culture.

There's so much more in store to come! And we're so thankful and blessed to have the privilege to serve God in this way.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


I'm not sure why it's taken this long to really sink in that we are actually leaving the country in only twelve days. But it has. Until today. Why today? We received the email confirmation that our airplane tickets to Costa Rica have been BOOKED! Paid for! We're flying out of Jackson on Monday, August 20 (I feel the need to say it again -- in only TWELVE days) at 6 AM. Okay, so that part's not too great. It means that we'll have to be at the airport before even the sun wakes up. After about an hour long flight, and then another hour/ hour-and-a-half layover in Atlanta (that part I'm not real thrilled about, either. I wish it were a tad longer, truth be told. The idea of racing through an unfamiliar airport with six carry-ons, six backpacks, and four children whose first airplane flights will have only been that morning, frantically trying to find our correct gate, have time for everyone to use the bathroom, and then get on the plane, is not a welcome one), we should arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica just before lunch time. That part is amazing. Provided that it doesn't take too long for us to get six carry-ons, six backpacks, seven footlockers, six suitcases, and six people through customs, we should have plenty of time to settle into our new house. (This is, of course, assuming that all of our luggage arrives with us in Costa Rica. I don't like to make assumptions, especially when luggage and airports are involved. But in this case, I choose to trust that God will have it covered. As He's taken care of everything else so far.) We leave the country in twelve days. Twelve days! It's finally real.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Goodbye Betty Lou

I remember the first day Troy brought her home. Our tiny car just wasn't big enough for our growing family. But after a long night of searching, we just couldn't find anything we liked or could afford. The next morning, Troy received a phone call from the car dealership, telling him that they'd found a van they thought we'd like. Not expecting much, Troy pulled onto the lot. He took one look at a blue Chevy Astro van and heard God say to him, "That is your van." He bought it on the spot and brought it home. In no time at all, she became Betty Lou....just another member of our family. Yes, she's a vehicle. Yes, she's not a real person. But don't let any of us hear you saying that. She's as real to us as if she really were a living, breathing member of our family. We knew, however, that we couldn't keep her. And storing vehicles long term is just not a great idea. So we realized that we had to sell her. Upon our return from getting our visas last week, Troy began preparing her for sale. He labored over every inch of her, inside and out, to where she looked as good as new. Well, somewhat new. Then, this afternoon at about 1 PM, he marked on the windows in vehicle soap, "For sale", our asking price, and his phone number. Within THREE HOURS, she was sold. And not just sold. But sold for almost our entire asking price! (An aside: As the family hadn't yet had time to clean the windows, he's even just moments ago received a phone call asking if the van was for still for sale. He had to tell the caller, "The people you see driving the van are the ones who bought the van.") As quickly as she came into our lives, she left us. And we are so thankful for the eight years we had with her. Thank you, Betty Lou, for being part of our family all these years. And thank You, Lord, for Your amazing provision in not only providing an amazing van for our family all those years ago, but in helping us find a new family for her to go to so quickly. Thank you all for your prayers!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Provision Before We Knew We Had a Need

A post I made yesterday in our Facebook group, "Gentrys' Mission to Mexico": Sometimes God provides before we even realize we have a need. A month ago when we applied for our passports, the lady had one extra picture of everyone leftover. Instead of just disposing of these, she said to me, "Some of these are quite good. You might like to have these extras just to keep." I thanked her and stuffed them in my purse. Fast forward to this morning. Almost the first thing requested by the consulate representative were pictures of each of us to affix to our visa applications. Troy and I glanced at each other in a panic. Pictures? Nobody said anything about pictures! Before our eyes, our hopes of walking away with the visas disappeared. What were we to do??? And then I remembered the extra passport pictures. And exclaimed, "Hello!! I have some in my purse!" I'm quite sure the poor man was unsure of what to think of my outburst, especially when I alternately giggled and appeared on the verge of tears. We are sitting at McDonald's (where there is wifi) waiting for our paperwork to be completed. Thank God for His provision; we'll be leaving Houston later today with six visas!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bittersweet Countdown

The first family member arrived in Iowa last night. Troy and the kids are arriving tomorrow night, and the last family member is arriving on Saturday. We have lots of fun things planned for this visit, including a viewing of "Brave" (which the kids are very excited about). Plus, of course they are thrilled for the chance to meet their newest cousin, born July 11. Last night during a Skype chat, they talked over their menu choices with Nana. Many of the usual favorites were on it: Nana's homemade sugar donuts, waffles, chocolate chip pancakes. And of course, lots of Anderson Erikson chocolate milk (for those of you who cannot get AE dairy products, I am so sorry. They make what are quite possibly the very best tasting dairy products in the country. Maybe even the world). Things are planned, but not overly scheduled. Just the way we like it. As much fun as this time together will be, I can't help but realize that it is the last time we're going to have as a family for the next couple years. The last time Nana will make those sugar donuts. The last gallon of chocolate milk. The last movie we'll see thanks to the generosity of "Aunt" Jackie. The last time we'll hold Benjamin as a baby. So, as everyone arrives and the fun begins, I realize that this time is bittersweet. Fun and enjoyable as a family. I wouldn't trade this time for anything. Yet, I know we have to get to Tuesday night and Wednesday, when the goodbyes come. We would definitely appreciate your prayers as we face these goodbyes. It is never easy to leave. Especially this time, knowing that our time apart will last a little longer.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

And the Lessons Keep Coming

From the last couple posts, it's evident that we are stressing out (just a bit) about the paperwork and all the many other details that need to be completed before we leave. There have been some restless nights and stomach upsets as a result. But why? Isn't our God big enough to take care of all these details? If He's big enough to give us this opportunity--completely apart from anything we accomplished on our own--then surely He's big enough to handle the details. Right? Well, we sure weren't acting like He was. Until today. Just before lunch time, a special delivery was made to our door by the post office. Six mailers. And inside these six mailers were.....six PASSPORTS. Passports??? After only EIGHT DAYS!? I took one look at those passports and immediately burst into tears. The kids kept eying me strangely, trying to ascertain why in the world Mama was crying (again). What they didn't understand, and what I couldn't at that moment articulate, was this: It was another lesson from God. Another gentle rebuke. "Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt Me?" You'd think after a similar moment only weeks ago, I would've learned my lesson. But apparently not. I've never heard of anyone getting passports back after only eight days (when mailed in). Even when expedited. And especially not for a family of six! And yet here they were today. It was like God was saying to me, "Quit stressing out about this! I've got this covered, My daughter!" This is a lesson I need to keep remembering when I'm tempted to stress and obsess.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Starfish Project Link Information

As promised last month, I've added a link to the Starfish Project website with the other links on the right side of our blog. I'd hoped to have a couple parties, but with this unexpected (but very welcome!) news from HQ, that won't be happening for awhile. However, you don't have to wait for a party to place an order. Click the link and check out the website. Their full catalog is available online. Choose a few pieces of jewelry (or lots!). Once you're ready to make a purchase, please make sure to select my name from the drop-down list of independent representatives in the checkout process. That way, I'll still get the commission from your order. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask ( Thanks! Remember, your purchases go to support a ministry that helps women who have been sexually exploited in Asia. Your support helps them find new lives!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Kids Announce Some Exciting News!

The Princess of Lists in Her Element

The list-making is in full swing. Let's see, I've got a list of things to do before we leave for language school. There's also a list of things we need to remember to pack. And then there's the list of items we want to get rid of. Earlier this week I had a list of family members and close friends we wanted to alert, but thankfully, that list has all been checked off. Then, unrelated to our language school lists, is the list of items I need to pack for my Iowa trip in just under two weeks. Along with that, I'll probably draft a list of items Troy will need to pack when he and the kids join me for the goodbyes on my side of the family. At this rate, I'll need a list to keep track of all my lists. Anyway, today I even got to check items off my main list (things do do before we leave). Passport application appointment schedule? Check. Scheduled for Monday morning. Once we've applied for those, I can begin the very long, very drawn out process of applying for student visas. When I inquired yesterday what needed to be done, I was shocked. For a long time I've heard horror stories about governmental red tape in other countries, and we're about to experience a little bit of that ourselves. Before even leaving home. Here's how this to-do list will go, just to give you a taste of the red tape: 1. Take birth certificates for Jenny, Clayton, and Tayler as well as our marriage certificate (which we're still waiting to receive a copy of in the mail) to Secretary of State in downtown Des Moines and have them aposillized. 2. Mail Troy's birth certificate to Texas to be apostillized. 3. Go to police department and formally request copies of our (non existent) police record for the last two years. 4. Take birth certificates for Tori and Cody as well as the copies of the police reports to the Secretary of State's office in downtown Jackson to be apostillized. 5. Either call Costa Rican embassy in Houston and arrange to mail all documents, along with our newly issued passports (once they arrive in several weeks) to them, or physically take all documents to Costa Rican embassy in Houston and have them stamp our passports with the student visa. Let the work begin.

Sinking In

This is gonna be a multi-post week (even if we can't actually post this yet for a few days, and even if you'll actually get to read all these posts in succession). Yesterday, June 19, we received part 3 of The Phone Call from headquarters. We are officially cleared for language school! We've been given permission to broadcast the news (believe me, it has been so hard not to hit that "publish" button! Once, I accidentally did, so I had to quickly go back and delete the post), but we wanted to wait until after we'd had a chance to announce our news to our home church on Sunday. In the mean time, we've told our family, a few of our closest friends, and several of our fellow field missionaries and other missionaries who have been in our shoes and know what this week means to us. Yesterday afternoon, we were formally invited to Costa Rica to attend language school, and today I submitted an information form for the school admissions office to review. After it's been approved, and headquarters sends the check for our registration, we'll be officially enrolled in The Spanish Institute in San Jose, Costa Rica! Then, our airline tickets will be booked. The next big legal issues we have to take care of are our passports (an expensive proposition, especially since we're expediting them), and applying for student visas. Having a student visa as opposed to a tourist visa will enable us to remain in the country the full year without having to leave and return every 90 days. They are a bit more expensive than tourist visas, but well worth the extra cost when the convenience is factored in. In order to obtain these visas, we have to have copies of our birth certificates and our marriage license notarized (not the word, but I can't remember what the actual word is) by the Costa Rican embassy here in the States. Well, this is what I've heard we have to do. I fully intend to contact the language school for help with this one. Some of our missionary friends, particularly those who have served/are serving on our Mexican field, have already given us some great advice about packing, what to take, what not to take, what kinds of things to do, etc. The Queen of Lists certainly is in her element! (Well, okay. My mom is probably the Queen of Lists....which would then make me the Princess of Lists.) It's starting to sink in that this is actually happening. Wow! Yesterday we were shocked and excited. Mostly excited. Today, knowing the up-hill battle I'm facing as I struggle to learn a language with sounds that frustrate my tongue (thank You, Jesus, that it's not Mandarin Chinese), I am freaking out. Scared out of my mind! Aack! How can I leave all that is familiar and go to a place where they don't speak my language??!! And beyond that, how in the world can I live in the 3rd largest city in the world???? The thought of driving in Mexico City has always terrified me. It's one thing, however, to know that somewhere, off in a very vague future, I'll be driving in the World's Largest Parking lot. But knowing I'm a mere YEAR away from that reality..... Well, this is the stuff of nightmares. On the other hand, I know full well that fear is not of God. It's! Not! Of! God! Fear is a tool of the enemy to keep us from doing what God has called us to do. And I'd rather die than let that happen. Seriously. I have the deepest conviction that the next two years are going to really stretch me as a woman, as a mom, a wife, and as a Christian. They are going to be the hardest two years of my life. But I have a feeling they are also going to be the most rewarding. When I come out on the other side, I'll be able to look back and see all that God has brought me through. The fear of driving. The struggles with learning Spanish. The shyness in meeting new people. The nervousness for my kids. The homesickness. All of it. And I can honestly say that I'm excited to experience every minute of it knowing that God has something amazing planned for our family as we minister to those He has called us to. And as they minister to us in return.

Ready, Set, Go!

(Written June 18, 2012) We got part two of The Phone Call from Bill Oden at OMS headquarters this morning. Our field director is very excited about the new plan to shorten our first term to two years! He'd really like to see us in language school this September. What does all of this mean? It means, quite simply, that come the end of August, the entire family will be boarding a plane and leaving the country. (Gasp!) Instead of talking about "mights" and "possiblys", we're making plans and coming to some definite realizations. This year we won't have to decide which family to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's with. Because we will be spending those holidays in an entirely different country than everyone else. Preferably on a beach. I will be celebrating my 38th birthday next year with an amazing trip to the beach--and not the dirty brown waters in the Mississippi Gulf. My first-born will become a teenager in a foreign country. When we leave Iowa at the end of July, I won't see my brand-new (well, as of July) nephew again until he is 2 years old (unless my sister and brother-in-law bring him to Costa Rica or Mexico City for a visit. Hint, hint!). That one's not a fun realization. It's one that has quite literally broken my heart to imagine. Once we board that airplane in August, we won't see any of our family members for the next two years, unless they go to the time and expense to visit us. Thank God for modern technology like Skype, email, Facebook, and blogs! But the fact remains that, no matter how healthy my one remaining Grandparent is now, not one of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Will God call her Home while we're out of the country? I can't say. And I dearly hope not. But I will have to prepare myself for that goodbye, even if it's one that I don't end up having to make. We will have our work cut out for us, both in the packing process, and once we arrive in language school. I speak not a lick of Spanish. In fact, my pitiful 2-years of high school French continually pop to mind whenever I try to think of certain Spanish phrases, so I imagine this will be very interesting. Most importantly, we will need your prayers in the weeks and months to come. Desperately. There's the house to pack, garage to sort through, storage to arrange, luggage for six to amass, plane tickets to book, passports and visas to arrange, applications to fill out, legal details to figure out and arrange, many goodbyes to be said, and probably many more things than I can think of now. And that's just before we leave the country! That doesn't even include all the minute details we'll have to take care of once we arrive in Costa Rica. The lovely thing about the language school in Costa Rica is the Big Brother program. A current student will be assigned to our family to help us transition into life in San Jose. He or she will pick us up at the airport. Find housing for us prior to our arrival! Then, help us get settled into a new culture. As part of the program, we get to in turn provide this assistance to another incoming family during our stay in Costa Rica. Thank you so much for your prayers and your support of our family over the many months we've been at this. You've helped us reach this very special day. I still tear up every time I think about what today means. This is the fulfillment of a calling God placed on Troy's life when he was a teenager. The fulfillment of a calling God placed on my life as a college student. And the fulfillment of a calling God placed on our hearts as a couple during a missions trip to Mexico back in March of 1999. We've been ready. We've been set. And now, finally--praise Jesus!--we are GOING!

The Most Incredible Development On the Most Incredible Day

We had completely written off being able to leave in August, as we're still only at about 55% funded (and have been stuck there for about a year). We'd begun to make plans to pack up our belongings and possibly move in with my mom in Iowa, with the new goal of leaving for language school in January. To be honest, we'd both accepted this and were excited about six more months of getting our ducks in a row--making use of that Rosetta Stone software we've had on the computer forever, helping the children firm up their reading/spelling abilities, learning a modicum of self-control and getting in shape in the process. All things that would've made our transition to life in Costa Rica easier. And then yesterday (Tuesday, June 12) we received The Phone Call from headquarters. Would we be interested in a two-year term: 1 year of language school followed by 1 year in Mexico City? After the completion of those two years, we'd come home and attempt to raise funds for a full four-year term. The thought process behind this is that it is much easier for missionaries to raise support for a longer term once they've actually had some field experience. People like to hear those stories of lives changed. And new missionaries who haven't yet been to the field do not have stories of their own to tell. We can only borrow other people's stories, which is nowhere near as effective. After several years of fundraising, we have enough in our account, or enough already coming in, to support a two-year term. It has yet to be approved by our field director, but the departmental heads at OMS headquarters are very excited about this, so we're cautiously optimistic as well. What does this mean? It means that at the end of August, we'll be flying to language school in San Jose, Costa Rica. It's happening. It's actually happening! We've got two months to get our stuff in order. This means we've got 12 years of stuff to sort through and either toss, sell, or store. We must get passports for the entire family. We must book tickets. And probably a number of other things we don't know about but are necessary when preparing to spend two years abroad (two years abroad!). I woke up yesterday questioning whether or not this was ever going to happen. And then by the end of the day, I was already thinking about what spending Christmas in a tropical location will be like, and what it will mean to watch both "Hobbit" movies dubbed over in Spanish (oh, I devoutly hope that's not the case. I'd much rather watch them in English with Spanish subtitles). Deep in my spirit, I can sense God saying to me, "Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt Me?" It's a day I will never forget for as long as I live. A most incredible day.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A New Project

This month, as Troy filled two pulpits in Louisiana, I took three Sundays and spoke to the class he teaches at a local church about human trafficking. I greatly enjoyed my sessions with the class, and it showed me that I still have much to learn about this issue. Probably the coolest thing to come from my time of teaching, however, involves my latest project. I'd made up a packet of information to give to the members of the class. On the back page was a list of resources. Book titles, movie and documentary titles, as well as a list of anti-human trafficking websites to check out. Now, I've had this list since the beginning of November. And I've looked up a couple of the websites. But not all of them. In preparation for one of my last classes, I discovered that one of the links is to the Starfish Project. In further investigation, I was intrigued and very excited about what I found. The Starfish Project benefits previously exploited and/or trafficked women in Asia who have been rescued. This ministry provides shelters for the women, offers counseling, certain job training skills, and even provides them a way to earn a respectable living. By making jewelry. When I looked at the online catalog, I was amazed at what these women were able to accomplish. They are making beautiful products to sell, and in the process are gaining the self-confidence and self-assurance that providing for themselves brings. Many have asked me, "What can I do to help these women? I'm just one person." Yes, as individuals we can only do so much. The following parable was taken from their website and is a powerful reminder of what we can accomplish...even as just one person. One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, "I'm saving these starfish, Sir". The old man chuckled aloud, "Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?" The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, "It made a difference to that one!" YOU can make a difference for the women in these shelters. Proceeds from the sale of Starfish Project jewelry benefits their shelters and helps keep the ministry running. But the benefits don't stop there. I have just been accepted to be one of their sales representatives. Any purchase of jewelry you make THROUGH ME, will not only benefit the women in these Asian cities. It will also BENEFIT OUR FAMILY'S SUPPORT ACCOUNT, through a generous commission! What this means is that TWO ministries will be helped, and you get to have some truly beautiful jewelry pieces. I will be posting a link to the Starfish Project on this blog after my orientation period next week. You may click on that link, choose which pieces you'd like to order, and then in the final ordering screens, you'll have the option to choose which representative to order through. My name should appear on that list. If you have any questions, please email me ( and I will answer them as best I can. Along with that, I'll probably be hosting a few parties in the coming months. You can help by volunteering to host a party at your home and by inviting friends who would be interesting in this wonderful cause and ministry. You can also pass along the information to your friends. Word of mouth can be a powerful tool. Please be praying with me that I'm able to share with women everywhere about this cause that is dear to my heart, and that we're able to help the Starfish Project ministry and our missionary account with the sale of jewelry. Thank you so much!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Adventures in Traveling

Perhaps we ought to write a book about our many adventures while traveling, it seems there have been so many of late. This week, we are in Asheville, North Carolina attending a conference our denomination is holding. As it didn't begin until mid-afternoon today, we decided to leave Jackson on Sunday after church in order to have a little bit of down-time in the mountains. The plan was to drive to Cherokee, North Carolina on Sunday and stay the night. Then, we'd get up very early so that we could see the sunrise from Cades Cove--one of the two best times a day to see some wildlife. Then, we'd spend the day driving through the park, enjoing the sights. We'd spend the night off I-40 and then have a bit more time to sightsee this morning before we needed to leave for Asheville. That was the plan, anway. Sunday, about an hour from our destination, the alternator decided to go out. Miraculously the van's battery held it's charge until a few blocks from our hotel. God protected us from breaking down---at night. In the dark. In the mountains, far from aid. We did make it to the hotel, but barely. The next morning, we discovered that the nearest parts store was 17 miles away. Noticing that the van's battery was registering at the same level of charge as the previous night (when we first realized it was dying, not when we stopped for the night), we decided to give it a try. After all, if that charge was enough for us to travel for an hour with the vehicle lights on, surely it was enough to travel 17 miles with the headlights off. Wrong. Although we were on a well-traveled highway, in the four hours we sat there while Troy pulled the old alternator off (it took so long because he had to practically take off the front end of van in order to access it), the wonderful guys at the Advanced Auto in Sylva, NC brought us a new one, and Troy put everything back together, only four people stopped. Four people! The worst, though, was the sherif that slowed down and gawked at us, then waved and drove on...without stopping. Wow. Whatever happened to "serve and protect"? And whatever happened to people who are willing to help their fellow neighbor?! We got back on the road a little after 1 and had the afternoon and evening to enjoy the Smoky Mountain National Park. We even spotted 6 bears in Cades Cove at dusk! Somewhere along our stops, we noticed that the check engine light had popped on. More car trouble. Discouraged, we decided it would be best to scrap plans of any further sightseeing and just stop for the night. Here is where the Lord blessed. We chose the town of Newport, TN (right off I-40) because it had plenty of hotels AND auto-parts stores in it. Checking in at the Motel 6, we were given a family suite that had 2 bedrooms (the master considereably bigger than ours at home), a living room, and a kitchen and bathroom (again, both considerably bigger than ours at home)! The boys slept on couches in the living room, the girls took the smaller bedroom, and we had the master--giving us all a chance to spread out and relax. The best part was that it was just a little more than an regular room would cost a small family--almost half of what we normally pay for hotel stays for our big family of 6! God truly blessed us. This morning, we had the van tested and it was fine. The check engine light even went off on its own. After some discussion, we believe that that warning light was God's way of telling us to "stop!". Our plans were for our own deteriment in that we were physically exhausted. And after the extra expense of a new alternator, we didn't need to be spending more money in gas driving to places we've already seen. So we slept in a bit, took care of the errands we needed to run in town, made sure the van was okay, and then drove to the conference early. This enabled us to arive early enough to set up our table display and unpack our stuff in the room well before the first session began. God enabled us to travel safely to our desination. He provded what we needed. He even threw in an afternoon and evening of fun for the family as well as a luxurious room to crash in last night. We are thankful for His many blessings and the many ways He provides for our needs. Please be praying with us for His will to be accomplished this week at the conference. Thank you!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

A Special Easter

This is the first Easter week we've celebrated since the last of our children accepted Jesus as Savior. How precious to know that when we celebrate His Resurrection tomorrow, we also celebrate the knowledge that all of our children have now found new lives in Jesus. They are no longer wandering and lost. They have been found. Hallelujah, praise God!

It makes the celebrations this week all the more poignant for us as their parents. And I know that as much as we are celebrating this Easter, our Heavenly Father celebrates with us over four little lambs that were lost but have been found.


Final Update on the Medicaid

Well, this one didn't end like I'd hoped. To my dismay (and frankly, disgust), our caseworker's supervisor chose to sit on the application while she attended a week of meetings. Even knowing that there was a great urgency to get our benefits approved. We were forced to reschedule her procedure for June 5.

While I am completely and thoroughly disgusted with Mississippi Medicaid (and pray most fervently that this is the last year we need to go through this process), I have to acknowledge the possibility that God's hand was in this all along. Perhaps there is a reason we do not know right now as to why Tayler couldn't have this procedure at this time. He could've worked a miracle in this and provided a way. But He didn't.

So we just have to be patient and trust that His plan is best. Even when we don't always understand.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Update on the Family

The past few weeks have certainly been a roller coaster of emotions, that is for sure! We've experienced time apart, renewed closeness as a family, and many miracles -- both big and small. Through it all, God has been with us and has taught us many lessons about faith and trusting in Him for our needs.

The family finally arrived home on Tuesday afternoon! We thought last week that Troy and the kids would be home by the end of last week. But that didn't happen. The transmission took a really long time to arrive at the mechanic's shop for some reason. Anyway, Monday morning, he received the call from Mr. Ken that the van was ready. Here's the amazing blessing. When he went to pick it up, he was informed that one of the men from "The Springs" paid $300 out of his own pocket to help out with the final costs of the transmission and labor! This was a completely unlooked-for blessing from God.

By the time Troy and the kids were able to pick up Betty-Lou, it was too late in the day to drive home, so they remained one last night in the cabin and came home on Tuesday. It's been so wonderful to be able to hug my family again. To hear all about their experiences. To enjoy prayer time together in the evenings as a family. To share meals together.

Thank You for your continued prayers for us. The Medicaid situation is not finalized yet. I did receive an indication from my caseworker earlier in the week that if our paperwork was in order (and I pray it is), her supervisor was prepared to sign off on our approval. I'll call her on Monday to find out where we stand on that. In the meantime, I'll trust that there will be a positive resolution for that too, just as there was with the van.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Unexpected Lessons, Unexpected Blessings

As I've mentioned before, there was not room on campus for us after March 2. So, after staying at a very nice place that caters to folks in ministry (they don't charge, but operate solely on donations) for a week, he and the kids brought me back to campus Sunday night and went on back to the cabin. They were going to pick me up Thursday. Well, early in the week the van started acting up, so on Wednesday, Troy ended up taking it to a mechanic the manager at the cabin had referred him to. They were delayed a couple days and weren't going to be able to pick me up until Friday.

Friday, they picked up the van and were on their way back to the cabin to get our stuff when it started smoking and leaking oil. Thankfully, a sheriff pulled in behind where Troy had pulled off the road and radioed for this mechanic to come out with his tow truck. It was the transmission, unfortunately. I am very thankful for this mechanic, however. He’s an honest guy who wants his customers to get the best deal. He told Troy that he’s in the diagnosis business, not the “fix it at any cost” business. He wants to make sure he figures out exactly what the problem is and then do his best to fix just that at the lowest possible cost to his customers. We are both so thankful that the van did not break down on the road--that would’ve been the absolute worst scenario possible. Troy’s actually also thankful that it happened here, where we had a reliable mechanic, and not in Jackson. While he’s skilled enough to do the job himself, it’s not the sort of job one can do alone. And unfortunately, our more mechanically minded friends have all left Jackson. Nor does he know a reliable mechanic in the area he could really trust.

At that point, I would've had someone drive me out to join them if not for a certain voice mail I received on Wednesday. A woman from the Medicaid office called as a "courtesy call" (although there wasn't ANYTHING courteous about her tone) to let me know that I'd missed the kids' re-certification appointment and had until Friday at noon to appear for it or my case would be CLOSED. In a panic, I called her and explained that it's pretty hard to show up for an appointment that (1) you didn't even know about, and (2) when you're in a completely different state. I told her the absolute earliest I could appear was Monday. She gave me grace until Monday, but no more. And with Tayler's procedure scheduled for April 5, we could NOT afford for them to close our case! Especially since it takes them a MONTH to process the paperwork.

Since the van wasn’t ready, I went ahead and booked a flight home. I was able to find a one-way flight from Indy to Jackson (through Houston) for about $325 (all fees included). Not too bad! This is even about $200 cheaper than the flights were when I looked into flying up for my training session way back in February! And that was with less than 24 hour's notice! God definitely had His hand in that, I believe.

The problem was that I have an insanely ridiculous fear of flying (not the actual flying part. It's the GETTING to the airport and dealing with connecting flights that freaks me out. I really don't mind flying, except that takeoffs and landings always hurt my ears), but God really helped me. I was able to be calm and ask questions when needed. I mean, the last time I flew was back in '99, so things have changed a little since then.

Everyone on campus and here at home have been so good to me. One of my Hope61 co-workers drug her kids out of bed on Saturday to pick me up and take me to the airport at 7:30. Our director's husband is personally calling area churches asking if they can help us out with costs. A friend drove 30 minutes out of her way to pick up the rest of the stuff I couldn't take and then drove it out to where Troy and the kids are staying (an hour from her) so that they don't have to backtrack and pick it up once the van's fixed. A man from our church here at home picked me up at the airport and helped me put the relays back in Troy's Jeep and get the tire aired back up so it would be ready for me to drive. As he left, he even gave me a little gift card for the Kroger so that I could get myself some groceries. It ended up being just a few dollars more than what I needed to restock the house with groceries after almost six weeks away! The cabin place told Troy and the kids they can stay as long as they need to--and are even allowing them to use their personal washing machine and dryer (as there is no laundry facility on site), as well as giving them rides to and from town when needed. The wives of the managers (there are two couples managing the property) have provided several meals for them and one even sent over some “new” games for the kids to play. One of the couples had Troy and the kids over for dinner Sunday night and they all sat around and played our “Apples to Apples Family” game. So glad I brought it! A dear friend of ours even offered to give us a van and find a way to get it to Troy in Indiana!

So many other things that I can't even mention. God is providing and working out snags for us. This has been a great lesson for us on faith and trusting God for His provision. Troy told me that it's sparked some really great conversations with the kids about this, and he's thankful for all the one-on-one time he's had with them the last week. This is literally the most time he's spent with them alone, and he's loving it. On Sunday, as they couldn't go to church, the kids decided they wanted to have their own church at the cabin. They even made bulletins--complete with a section for taking notes! They sang songs, had an "offertory", and one of the kids even took notes during Troy's Bible study!

I thought Mama would love it too, but I miss my family. I'm going to use this time to get some writing done (as I wasn't able to get much done while we were gone), get some cleaning done, and just enjoy having the house to myself. That’s another gift from God in itself, actually. I was disappointed that I really didn’t have much time to write, and now God’s given me all this time by myself in a quiet house to do some catching up!

There have also been some frustrations along the road. Monday morning when I went to pick up our mail, as we'd expressly asked them to hold it at the post office until we could pick it up, as they often do, they disregarded my request. I drove all the way over there only to have the woman tell me it was out for delivery. And it was a lot, too. I shudder to think about what would've happened if I hadn't come back in time. Of course, there was the usual mail that didn't belong to us mixed in with it, one piece a package for the 722 WEST Northside Drive address (we're 722 EAST Northside Drive. We get mail for them, a daycare center, A LOT). I hope they weren't waiting for that long.

Then, I arrived at the Medicaid office and had barely sat down before my case worker informed me that they closed my case on Friday. Even though we'd spoken and I'd told her I couldn't appear until Monday. She said she had no control over it, but I think she could've gone to bat for me if she'd felt like it. I was angry, but tried to calmly explain that while the rest of my family was still stuck with a broken-down vehicle in Indiana, I'd flown back over the weekend specifically for this meeting. Then I explained WHY this was so urgent. She thawed and expressed some sympathy for Tayler at that point, promising to do her best to push the paperwork through. We'll see. She also had more paperwork that she surprised me with -- I had to go to the seminary and get someone to write a letter showing the dates Troy had been employed there. Even though it's been over six months since he last worked there and TECHNICALLY, they are only supposed to need your most current paycheck information. I went to the financial officer at the seminary, Mrs. Leigh, and started crying before I could even explain what I needed from her. I've submitted all required information. Please pray with me that she will indeed push the paperwork through and Tayler's appointment will not need to be rescheduled.

This was not at all how we anticipated the end of our time in Indiana going. By any means. But God has been faithful to provide in ways both little and big. We continue to trust that He will provide the needed funds for the transmission, that He will give the family traveling mercies as they drive back to Jackson (hopefully either Friday or Saturday), and that He will work out all the details surrounding Tayler’s heart procedure and our Medicaid status.

Exodus 14:14 - “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

1 Samuel 12:16 - “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Special BIRTHday

Tayler's birthday ended up being really different. There is no oven at the cabin, so I couldn't make my usual birthday muffins for her. We did get birthday decorations and put those up late Thursday night for her to enjoy. For breakfast, Troy made pancakes and we heated up some heat-and-serve sausages. The kids had school, as we really couldn't afford for them to miss--something completely new to her. I've always given the kids birthdays off. Anyway, we finished our abbreviated school day around noon and went into town for lunch at the DQ. Just as we all placed our orders, the power went off. Apparently there had been an accident and someone had slammed into the utility pole, knocking out power all up and down the strip in town---with all the fast food restaurants included. We drove around a bit, trying to find a place open, then ended up heading back to the DQ to see if their power had yet been restored. Thankfully, it had.

After lunch, we went to the laundromat to run some laundry, picked up her cake, and headed back to the cabin. Troy was going to grill these delicious sausages for the family. What I didn't know, however, is that Tayler doesn't like them. Oops! Thankfully for *her*, there was a mishap with the grill (turns out, those bacon-wrapped sausages SMOKE better than they GRILL) and the food was completely burnt to a crisp. We ended up driving into town to eat a late supper at a local restaurant.

ANYWAY. As this town is very big into Catholicism (there is a monastery and a convent in this little town), there were statues of Mary everywhere. Including in a little alcove of the restaurant right smack dab in front of our table. On the way back home, one of the kids asked why they had a statue of the Lady of Guadalupe, so we had a discussion about the differences (and similarities) between the Lady of Guadalupe and the Virgin Mary. This prompted a big theological discussion that ended with Cody making a comment that since "all of us have asked Jesus into our hearts"... We both looked at each other, momentarily uncertain as to what to say. To the best of our knowledge, that was a decision that Cody had not yet made, but how to get him to understand this? Interestingly, just a few weeks ago, we'd discussed our mutual concern that he had not yet made this decision. The other kids were each between 4-5 when they accepted Jesus, so we felt that a discussion was likely coming. We worried that it was something he'd think he'd already done. Sort of the, "well, my family members are Christians, so so am I" kind of thing. And as I had the privilege of leading both Tayler and Clayton to Christ (at the same time), and someone else led Tori, I really wanted Troy to have this privilege with Cody.

He explained to him, gently, that this was not something he'd ever done before and asked if Cody would like to do it now. He was so excited to accept Christ in his heart, he wanted to do it right there and then---on the road between town and the cabin! Troy had him wait until we got home, and then we all knelt around him while Troy led him in the sinner's prayer. It was absolutely precious. Tayler declared that it was the best birthday present she could've gotten (which made me even prouder).

So now all four of our children have each made the decision to trust Jesus as their Savior. We rejoice with Him and are thankful for His faithfulness to our children. It was especially poignant as our children, and their safety and futures, have been heavily on our hearts the last few weeks in particular. We've felt the enemy trying to instill fear in our hearts about them--hoping to deter or distract us from our purpose of ministry that seeks to set people FREE from Satan's bondage of sin. That this took place on the same day we'd both felt the most oppressed with fear only served to bring home in a tangible way to us Jeremiah 29:11. I even wrote it out, inserting each child's name and will pray that verse every time I feel tempted to fear for their futures. Truly, greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. Hallelujah, amen!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Unexpected Burden

During this afternoon's session, a fellow missionary who'd spent a week in Burundi, Africa spoke to our group about her time there. She shared about how the country has been ravaged by war over the last several decades. Many of us have heard about the genocide that took place in Rwanda. But what is not commonly known is that the same battles between those two ethnic groups also ravaged the country of Burundi. A entire generation was basically destroyed. On top of that, HIV/AIDS have spread like wildfire through the country, resulting in even more deaths. There is an increasing population of young widows and orphans--most of whom have little or no income. And many of whom resort to prostitution to provide for their families, thereby increasing the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout the country. The church desperately needs help in providing alternate means of income for these women and children. They'd like to teach these women skills they can use, like sewing, to earn money for their families. But they need workers. They need financial supporters. I was unexpectedly broken for the ruined state of the country.

Perhaps a little background history is in order here. My paternal grandparents, Bill & Ruth Cox, were pioneer missionaries with World Gospel Mission to Burundi. When I say "pioneer" missionaries, I mean it just like it sounds. My grandfather was dropped off in the middle of nowhere with basic supplies and a tent. He himself made the bricks needed to then build each of the buildings on their compound. They had no language school to attend to learn Kirundi. No seasoned missionaries to lead and guide them through their initial days on the field. I've heard stories of my grandmother--a very gracious, well-groomed woman--spreading her handkerchief over the dried dung piles the women sat on during her Bible lessons. After a time of making little relational progress with the women, God showed her what the problem was. My meticulously groomed grandmother removed her handkerchief and sat on the dried dung pile like the other women. That simple act bridged the gap between them.

My father was actually born in Burundi. As an adult, he and my mother served a couple years on the field with their one-year-old firstborn: me. I learned Kirundi along with English and embraced the Burundian people as my own. They've often told me that when we came back to the States, I wasn't used to seeing so many white faces. Spotting a black man at either a restaurant or the airport (I don't remember which), I walked right up to him and held my arms out for him to pick me up. Of course I don't remember anything about my time there, as I was only 3 years old when we returned to the States. However, growing up hearing stories of Burundi, Kenya, and other parts of Africa, I've never had any desire to visit the country. I'm the only one in the family that feels this way, too.

So this afternoon when I heard about how ravaged the country has been over the years, my heart ached. Burundi is part of my family heritage. The language and memories of the people and my time spent there are ingrained in some corner of my brain. Still, I can feel a bit of the burden my grandparents must've felt for the country and people of Burundi. I know if they were alive today, they would both be broken-hearted by what has taken place there. I am thankful for their faithful service to the people there. And I pray that God will raise up a new generation of workers and missionaries like them who are called to minister to the precious people of that country. Please pray with me for the country of Burundi.