Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Grass is always greener...

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have a prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." 1 Cor. 13:1-3

I would like to ask you all to pray for Mongolia. They have declared National Disater, and have asked for help from the Red Cross, which is unusual, as they don't like to accept help from other countries. The las summer was very dry, and this winter was very long and cold, there are many people in the oultying areas who are starving, some have died, and the situation there is very grim. Cristo Vive has planned a trip there in July. As of right now there are about 5 people planning on going. This is an opportunity to reach out with the Gospel and see the country changed. Pray for the Christians, as they are all relatively new in the faith, to have boldness and favor.

Here's the Update on Yours Truly:
Cuenca is so different from Guayaquil, that it seems I am in a different country all together. It feels much calmer. It is a much smaller city than Quito and Guayaquil. The climate is similar to what Wisconsin feels like in the spring or fall. It is cold at night (I actually have had a difficult time getting warm, before I can fall asleep – even with a pile of blankets!), and at midday, when the sun is the most direct, it is hot, though there is usually a breeze. I thought I would never feel cold again, and couldn’t imagine donning a sweater after the sweltering heat of Guayaquil, but here I am. On Saturday, I ran for the first time in a few weeks. There is a nice path with a lot of parks along the river, which is also very beautiful, and calming. Although I don’t know the ins and outs of the city yet, because it is smaller and safer, I feel freer to come and go as I need. Also, due to the beautiful climate, mountains, clean air and calm lifestyle, there are lots of foreigners in this city; it is odd for me to see other random Americans or Europeans here. I am living in a house with two other “missionaries” that work for the church here, Calvary Chapel. The pastor lives next door and the church is just next to his house. I have my own room (with beds enough for 5 roommates!) with big windows and my own bathroom, so lack of space is NOT an issue. I wonder at times if I will ever settle in one place long enough to feel at home, though, I guess that is not the idea! It has been a bit difficult this time, I think because I am alone. There are no other Cristo Vive folks here, besides the ones I am building relationships and a team with. I knew it would be a bit of a struggle after Gene, Jordana, and the teams left. However, I have been trying my hardest to focus on the schedule I have made and do the work! All of you know that, though I need my alone time, I thrive just knowing there are people near me that I can converse with if I want to. I feel like such a fickle GIRL, because I was looking forward to some peace and quiet after the craziness of the last couple of months, and now, I am pining away for more interaction – am I weird or what?! So, the challenge has been set before me. We shall see what the Lord has for me to learn through this. There is hope of someone joining me in this work soon, so please be praying for that. I know that I am just being impatient and I need to trust the Lord to work everything out. It has only been a week.
I have been missing the opportunity to go to the orphanage. Tossing and turning at night, I pray, wonder, and wish that I could do more to fix these situations. Flor is constantly on my mind, and I know the Lord is working in her and all the kids there, and even the director. I keep thinking that the best thing is for these kids to get adopted…anyone have a bunch of money to lend me so I can adopt a few of them? My mom would be thrilled!

My focus right now, for the next few weeks, is to get this team in Cuenca off the ground. It is a challenge for several reasons, and I have to keep reminding myself that this is going to take time…but I like to see results! So far, nothing has gone quite like I thought it would. That doesn’t mean I will stop planning, just that I now plan on my plans changing! We have an event on the calendar for May 15, though that may be too soon. This is a new territory for me, and though there are people interested, it has been a challenge to get them all together at the same time. The people involved in this church are busy, so we have to get other churches involved as well.

The good news (Sorry, this seems to be a bit of a depressing update!) is that the people here are very focused on reaching out to their community and surrounding areas that may not be evangelized. They have planted a daughter church in an unreached community, hold classes with the kids whose parents work at the little market down the street, visit a cancer hospital, and much more. They have a Jewish Dinner at least once a month. People come from many different cities, and many have given their lives to the Lord as a result. Pastor Fredy teaches the spiritual significance of every act and every food item from the reference point of the Last Supper. It is a beautiful way to present the love and sacrifice of Christ.

My health has gotten better, probably due to the fact that it is cooler and I have been eating much healthier here. I can buy fresh veggies and fruits just a block away. My head has been itching for about a week, though it is getting better. The first few days, it was driving me crazy!! I was so afraid I had lice or something, but nobody could find anything, so, it was probably a reaction to some shampoo I bought here or something.

I am becoming famous here for my monster cookies and “tortas” (cakes), which are really just glorified banana bread! When I arrived in Cuenca there was a pile of old bananas in the house, and Jessy, a young Arizonian, can’t eat wheat. I happened to buy an overripe pineapple and a coconut. So, I threw something together with oatmeal instead of flour – inspired by Maricelle’s tropical nut bread. Lorena (my Columbian housemate), asked me to make one for a baby shower, and now everyone wants one! The thing is, here, they don’t really bake, so, when someone does, they’re in awe! I could open up a bakery/beauty shop here and become a rich woman!

For your enjoyment:
I have to tell you a quick story about why I am sick of Ecuadorian men!! No offense if you are one! It never ceases to amaze me, but I can’t tell you how many times short, middle-aged Ecuadorian men have stared, made crude comments, whistled, smooched, and waved at me (Imagine if I were a tall blonde!). I always wonder if it ever works for them…I mean, do girls ever respond to them?? Well, last Tuesday, on my way to Cuenca, topped them all. I was, against everyone’s better judgment, alone at the bus terminal. By now I know the ropes, and wasn’t at all concerned about going there by myself. Of course, if I had had a tall, intimidating ex-cop with me, for instance, I wouldn’t be relaying this story, but all of the guys that I would normally call on to help me out, were gone, and the Ecuadorians were all working. As I waited for my bus to arrive, a man wanted to help me take the pack off my back…I told him I was fine, but he didn’t listen. Then, he wanted to know where I was from, what my name was, etc. He told me I had pretty eyes, and then asked if I had a boyfriend. This was the point of no return, and I was starting to get annoyed. I told him I did (Jesus counts, right?), and of course, he wanted to know where he was. When he started asking for my number and if I liked to go dancing I wanted to punch him in the face, but I figured that would just cause more trouble. Finally, my bus came, and he took it upon himself to help me get my things and myself on the bus. He asked me again for my number (kind of whiney like a puppy with sad eyes and his head cocked off to one side). I was so relieved when he got off the bus, but then, a few minutes later, he was standing below the window! He was holding his chest like he was in pain! He said he wanted to see me when I came back and that he would be waiting here for me, and that he was in love with me (Gag!)! I reminded him that I had a boyfriend, to which, he replied, “Yeah, but he’s not here!” And I said: “Pero, estoy fiel (but, I am faithful!)!” To which he responded that that is exactly the kind of woman he is looking for! ARGH! So I said, “Ok, I will keep my eyes open for one for you!!” (Was that cruel?). It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. I took out my book and began to “read”, which was a good idea, because twice I saw him coming towards the bus, but when he saw I was reading, didn’t attempt to talk to me again. I arrived in Cuenca, called a taxi, and the driver was chatting about how he worked in New York and likes to travel to Spain etc, and, just as we arrived at the house he asked me “Do you like to go dancing?” I paid him, thanked him, and went inside! So, if you hear that I have eloped with a forty-five year-old taxi-driver or food-stand owner, don’t be surprised…their charm is just so irresistible!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Those who Trust...

*** Psalm 125:1 “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever…”

Hi Everyone!!! Hope you are all well, enjoying your family, making the most of every moment, and trusting your Father to take care of you! This week has not exactly been as restful as I had hoped. Planning the upcoming weeks, writing, calling, meeting, going to the orphanage and shopping for supplies took up quite a bit of time. Did I mention it is infinitely hotter here than it EVER gets in Wisconsin, therefore, all of these activities are bathed in prayer AND sweat!

Last Saturday night, I couldn't sleep...the orphans wouldn't let me. I was feeling very overwhelmed about all the different ideas and needs that were flooding my head. So, I just told the Lord that we would do whatever we could, but that we needed some help. Well...

The next day, I spent time with a friend and her husband. He is an architectural designer and had all kinds of grandiose ideas for CVI. I asked him if he could help me with a few smaller projects first. It was such a relief to be connected with someone who knows a bit about the process of construction. Later that afternoon, we held a reunion with all the counselors who volunteered at the last camp. We shared our experiences, how it changed us, the impact the campers and counselors had on us, and how the Lord helped us to overcome the challenges. Sharing how upsetting it was to see Flor, Julian and José return to the orphanage after receiving so much love, I talked a bit about our desires to help. I was flooded with questions and suggestions, and, before I knew it, the Ecuadorians of Cristo Vive had decided we were going to go this Saturday (which was yesterday!) to work! This was both encouraging and a bit alarming. We didn't have a solid plan at this point, but I knew we needed to move forward and give them the opportunity to act.

We arranged a meeting and made clear that this whole project will remain under the direction of OM, and Cristo Vive and other churches and groups that get involved will all fall under their leadership, so as not to confuse anyone. We hope to form several groups responsible for different activities and events, so that we do not all need to be there at the same time. One of the goals of Cristo Vive is to connect the counselors with the lives of their campers and to get more churches involved on a long-term basis, so, I think this is a positive step in the right direction. Some of the goals of the orphanage project are to get all the kids in school, offer them a responsibility and reward program, teach them the Bible, discipline, being kind to each other, a good work ethic, and hygiene. We would like to continue fixing the place up, possibly teach them to garden, and the list goes on and on. We know that we need people with specific skills, money, tools, and lots of patience in order to maintain the work there, but that will come, as long as we are committed, and the Lord is at the center of it. One thing I don’t want to do is to just hand them everything, thus perpetuating the lack of motivation they seem to be plagued with. I have been reminding the kids to say “please” and “thank you”, instead of the whiny “gimme’s”. They don’t like it! Basically, we are trying to do for these kids what their parents haven’t. It is a big job parenting (Parents: can I get an AMEN!) – let alone for 19 kids – imagine how overwhelmed this director must feel! My main frustration and concern is still for Flor. When we come in at around 10:30 am, the other kids have eaten breakfast, and she is sitting by herself in her room, usually staring at her lap, often, she is wet, because she doesn’t have any form of diaper on and no one has offered to take her to the bathroom. Really, this doesn’t require a whole lot. She only needs someone to give her the wheelchair, push her there, and help her with her pants, OR at the very least, to put a diaper on her in the morning!! She thrives (they all do!!!) with a bit of positive attention and love!

If someone didn’t make lists and get supplies, we wouldn’t have gotten very far. I wish I could make you understand just how completely different the process is here. Also, the communication between me and the Ecuadorians comes with several challenges, but, that's another story!! About 15 of us spent yesterday morning scraping off old paint, scrubbing showers and toilets, cleaning up trash and digging out the canals for the rainwater that were clogged with dirt and refuse. My friends witnessed firsthand the enormity of the task before us, but were undeterred!
*** Anyone interested in helping with this project specifically, let me know! ***

I was able to buy school supplies, and praise the Lord, we found a Christian distributor who gave us schedules with Bible verses for all the kids, and a discount, which allowed me to buy all of the necessities with the money that I had available! (It only took six hours, but, who’s counting!!)

God is so faithful, and He answers our prayers!! I am grateful: I haven't had any more issues with headaches and I am learning a little bit more every day about myself and this culture in which God has placed me. It's funny that apparently no one can find a good hairstylist, and I have been cutting hair almost every day (Coincidence?! Nope.)! I may start taking donations since it can be time-consuming. I blame MOM for this one!!

The Lord has been ministering to me very specifically. One morning, all the emotion and stress that I was stuffing away somewhere bubbled up and resembled an erupted mess of grief, stress, and confusion. During the night, I dreamt of my grandmother, woke up crying, and immediately went outside to spend some time with God. The first thing I do is pray and worship with the guitar, but the tears, like rivers of lava, continued to flow. I told the Lord if ever there was a time that I needed the comfort and counsel of the Holy Spirit it was at that moment, and to please give me some wisdom. I opened the Word and began reading in Psalms. Like a balm to my wounded spirit, the Truth transformed me from a tumultuous volcano into the strong, steadfast mountain He has created me to be, my confidence in His peace. These verses were particularly pertinent: Psalm 120:1-2 “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue…” and, 126:5 “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!”

Today is Sunday…and I plan in treating it as such! Worship, Rest, and Mercedes’ pool!! Tomorrow I plan on heading off to Cuenca. Please pray as we seek to get some activities going in the next weeks and form a team there. Also, as I have mentioned before, I am in the process of forming a big, strong team to come the first two weeks of August to do ministry, construction, and a weekend camp! *** Please pray and pass on the information! We’ll take all the help we can get, so COME TO ECUADOR!! ***

Thank you all for your prayers, they are my lifeline!!! Be Blessed!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

*** Cristo Te Ama Mi Flor! ***

Ok everyone, we need to celebrate the goodness of the Lord together!!! It doesn’t matter where you are in the world or what you are doing, as long as you realize that your purpose in life is to glorify your Heavenly Father and to share Him with those around you…and that means so many things!! Some people think that because I am out of my country serving the Lord that I somehow have graduated into a new spiritual category, when in reality, we all have to depend on the Lord every waking moment and ask Him for the wisdom to make the most of the challenges of our days! He meets us where we are at with such sweet gifts; exactly what we need, whether we realize it or not! I actually feel like a kindergartner as I struggle to get a handle on how to manage my spiritual life, work, and personal life while learning the culture, language, and social norms. You can pray that I don’t let frustrations take hold and turn to bitterness, but that I learn to operate wholly within the culture.

I love camp!!

I have now finished both of the weekend camps and sent both of my American teams home. I learned so much during the processes of leading these teams into ministry. Fortunately, after following the advice of a wise Ecuadorian, and eating “soft” food for a few days, my stomach has returned to normalcy. Unfortunately, I have had two migraine headaches this week lasting about two days each. I guess I earned them. Knowing that the last few weeks have been full to overflowing with ministry activities, preparation and execution of camp, traveling, keeping my teams intact, and seeing them off, it is a fair deduction that I have put my body through a bit of stress, and it is reacting. I may try taking an antibiotic next…maybe I have a sinus infection and just didn’t realize it?? So, please pray for my body, as it is the temple of the Lord, and I want Him to be welcome and sickness to flee!

Here’s what has been happening lately:

Last weekend, we had our little beach camp…there were 57 people total. Being outside of the city, spending time near the ocean and with my fellow Cristo Vive friends was so refreshing for my body and spirit! It always amazes me how the Lord puts just the right camper/counselor pairs together, both challenging us and filling us to overflowing with His love. I wish I could share all of the tender moments we saw the Lord ministering to His kids, but it would take pages! José, the boy from the orphanage who cannot hear or speak, enjoyed being taught the motions to all the camp songs, and I recognized early on, that when I would seek him out to say hi, he would smile shyly, but one day, I had him playing my guitar, so he could feel the vibrations, he loved it! After spending those few minutes, I gained his trust and affection. From then on, he would seek me out and offer a giant smile and a hug.
Almost all of our campers were new, which is exciting because some of them heard the Gospel for the first time. The Holy Spirit moved and there were definite moments of decision and change in their live. But, as usual, the counselors received so much joy and encouragement their campers and watching Him work on their hearts. I was so impressed with my two young team members, Dani (15) and Farrah (17). Both of them had never been out of the country before and are a bit timid by nature. Farrah’s camper was a 16 year-old who was the size of a 3 year-old and the mental age of an 8 month-old. She had to be held a lot, fed, changed, and comforted. This was very stretching for Farrah, but she rose to the occasion and allowed the Lord to grow her. And Dani, who did not have a camper, took turns caring for other campers and was not afraid to do whatever we asked of her. She really watched out for everyone on the team, and has such a servant’s heart. They really blessed me (and they took good care of me when I had a giant headache and couldn’t be the leader I wanted to be!!).

I had the great privilege of being assigned to a one on one role with a camper for the first time in at least three years (usually I am in leadership and it would be too much to handle)!! I was sooooo excited to be able to focus my attention fully on Flor and her needs for a few days. We had a wonderful time at camp! I discovered that she has an amazing sense of humor and a beautiful trust in the Lord. The very first afternoon, we were relaxing in our room, playing my guitar, and I made up this song that stuck with us for the rest of the camp. “Cristo te amo mi Flor” which means, Jesus loves my Flor. I sang some other lines and changed it around here and there, but when I made my voice sound silly, she laughed! I hadn’t heard a single sound come out of her mouth until that moment…and what a sweet sound it was; I was overjoyed! So, for the rest of the weekend, I made it my job to make her laugh as often as I could…which was pretty often! Everyone came to know her by her beautiful grin and ready embrace! We talked with her about Jesus and prayed with her, and I know she knows Him. She is confident that He loves her and lives in her heart! We became very intimate friends, and it was extremely difficult to let her go, knowing exactly what she was returning to. Julian, one of the three from the orphanage said “Tia (Aunt), I don’t want to go back to the orphanage, I want to stay here with Fernando (his counselor). As a result of spending so much concentrated time with her, I have a new perspective on her care, her needs and what we can do to help her have a better life. The orphanage folks cannot afford to buy diapers, so they did not send them with her to camp. Therefore, that first morning, she went through three of the four changes of clothes and we spent all of our time changing and washing. That is when I requested that someone go find diapers. The rest of the weekend, she was able to attend all of the activities with the dignity she deserves. So, I have decided to buy her diapers for as long as I can, in the hopes that they will use them. It is so much more sanitary, and so much less work for her caretaker. Wednesday, I went back to the orphanage. Flor was sitting in a chair by herself, sulking; she seemed very sad, with the remnants of tears on her eyelashes. Her caretaker said Flor wouldn’t talk to her for a few days because she was upset she had to come back. After I spent some time praying with her and sang her our song, she was back to her happy self. Everyone agrees that there is a reason that we met her and brought her to camp. The Lord has been working in her life. She is a changed girl and He has begun to use her to impact those around her!! Flor needs our prayers. The environment and situation in which she is living is discouraging, and she needs the presence of the Holy Spirit to remind her that she has a Father who loves her!!

I had a lengthy discussion with the director of the orphanage (Laura) and she is very open and excited about our desires to help them. I asked that she let us know the ways that they could use help, her goals for the kids and how we can help. I was pleased to learn that she used to provide therapy, both physical and speech, but now that she is the only one running the show, she spends much of her time figuring out how to provide them with enough food. From what I understand, the only funding they receive is from an Ecuadorian couple, which is insufficient to run the place properly. She expressed the need for the children to have school supplies (which I plan on buying with the ministry money our team was able to contribute) and the security of a wall or fence of some sort surrounding the facility. She also said that their stove only has one functioning burner (I may have already found an industrial kitchen unit to donate to them). I have been talking with my leaders and some of my other Ecuadorian friends and those who volunteer there with another organization, and we are trying to figure out ways to solve some of these problems. The other kids are asking why they didn’t get to go to camp, and when is it their turn…the OM crew are already planning on having a little camp activity of their own before the end of May! It is exciting to be able to work together with brothers and sisters who are like-minded and motivated. In due time, we shall see the glory of the Lord in that place!!

There are several older teens there that don’t have any hope of ever leaving, because they have no skills and no way to provide for themselves, let alone a family. One of the girls, who watches with shy interest when I play and sing, asked if I would teach her to play the guitar. She would also like to become a beautician. So, on Friday, when we go back to the orphanage, I am planning on giving her a guitar lesson and a haircutting lesson (using Seth, the Georgian, as my example!).

It’s as simple as this: the Lord connects us, and it is our responsibility to find out what His purpose is in connecting us. We must serve each other and give away the love we have received from Him. Keep the orphanage and all the campers in your prayers, and if the Lord gives you any ideas, please share!!!

The camp we were using is not wheelchair accessible, neither is the orphanage, so we are planning on recruiting a team to come down to do some construction, hopefully as soon as August. It was exciting to see Laura, the director, breath a sigh of relief at the hope that there are people out there who want to help. I kept telling her: “all of this is possible; with God nothing is impossible!! He is the God of miracles!”

I am supposed to spend these next few days resting, recovering, and making up my schedule for the next few weeks. I plan on heading to Cuenca early next week. These next seven weeks will be focused on strengthening my teams in Cuenca and Quito, planning trips for August, and mainly develop a more regular schedule so that my life doesn’t feel so chaotic. Please pray that I have wisdom and foresight in my planning. Also lift up Cristo Vive and all the other ministries here that we have been working with, as we strive to mobilize the local Christians to put their faith into action.

***Also, please pray for Gene, Jordana, and Osito. They have returned to Minnesota and are in the midst of making some important decisions regarding schooling for Osito, international trips, and planning camps for the summer! I will miss them!