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Home sweet home…

I know.  Two blog posts from me in the same day.  Some people might claim it’s a sign of the Second Coming.  Alas, no.

This summer, ER hosted two of what we call our “house teams”.  These amazing teams raise funds to build a house for a family from our Zambiza dump program, and then they come down here, roll up their sleeves and build it.  They learn to lay concrete block, dig trenches for sewer lines (twice, for this house!), put in tile, install sinks and tubs and toilets…

Today Dan and I went out to the house site to see the team dedicate the house to the family…and the family to the Lord.  There really are no words to describe seeing a family that had been living in a 10′ x 10′ room receive the keys to their very own house.  To see them walk through the door, knowing that everything in the house is theirs.  It’s clean and bright, and the pantry is stocked, and there are shoes and clothes and toys in the little girls’ room and towels in the bathroom and a sofa and chair in the living room, and a dining room table and chairs where they can sit down as a family and eat together every night. 

I love being at home.  I can only imagine how much more I would love being at home if I had never had one before.  I love having my things organized and “just so”.  I love thinking about Maria tonight, and how she is getting to organize her new things, and have them “just so”.  How she and her husband David will tuck their two little girls into their own beds, under their brand new comforters, and for the first time in their lives those little girls HAVE beds…not just beds, but their OWN beds.  Maria and David had never had a bed.  Tonight, they have a bed.  In a proper master bedroom. 

As I write this, the team is on their way to the airport.  Their work here is done, and they are heading home.  I watched tonight as they said goodbye to the people that they had worked alongside all week–Paul and Susan, Jose and Teresa, Ben and Lindsey, Ricardo and Luis.  There were so many tears being shed.  As I looked around, I remembered that I’ve been where they are.  I’ve led missions trips.  Fallen in love with people.  Had to leave and return “home”.  Tonight, I was reminded again how the Lord brought us down here, and how this has become home.  We don’t have to stay here–we get to stay here.  We are so privileged to be a part of what happens here, not just when the teams are on the ground, but all year round. 

Home.  Sweet.  Home. 

Master Bedroom

Master Bedroom

Dining Room Table

Dining Room Table

Kitchen

Kitchen

Little girls room

Little girls room

House team

Dedicating the house to the family. Maria, David and their two little girls are in the center of the circle.

The Missionary’s Prayer

This morning I have been going through some things that I wrote way back when we first arrived on the field.  Things have changed so much since then.  This one particularly stuck out to me, for two reasons.  One, I wrote it in July of 2004, when we had been on the field for only seven months.  I wasn’t jaded or cynical at that point.  And two, I need to be reminded in my current jaded, cynical state that we are here for a reason, and it really has nothing to do with my own personal comfort.  Even after 10 years, I have so far to go…

The Missionary’s Prayer

   Father, help me to love these people as you love them.  Remind me that “Their ways are not my ways, nor are their thoughts my thoughts.”  Forgive my selfish pride in thinking that my way is always the best way.  Help me to see the differences between us as strengths, rather than weaknesses.  When I feel wronged, and I will, remind me that I am to forgive others as you have forgiven me.  I pray that they will also forgive me my trespasses, which will be many.
   When the opportunity for love comes my way, allow me to put off my foolish ideas.  Do not let an opportunity to show your love to someone pass, simply because I am worried about physical things.  I have the blessing of going home and washing, while many here do not.  When I am offered a meal of foods that are strange to me, prepared by hands that I do not know, remind me to accept it graciously and enjoy it in the spirit of sacrifice in which it is offered.    Take me beyond the ragged exterior to the heart within.
   When I am asked to be in places that offend my sensibilities, remind me that you left Heaven to come to a world that offended everything in you.  Yes, the places here where people live are dirty, and I wonder that they can survive in a garbage dump, or a village with no clean running water…You saw earth in much the same way.  Allow me to look past the physical to the eternal, as you did for me.  
   My purpose here is not to change their way of life, but to embrace it, and to see the beauty that their traditions merit.  Show me the wonder in their worship, in their music…in their living.  And when at last you call us home, I will find the joy that comes with kneeling at your feet with my brothers from this foreign land.  And our understanding of each other will be complete.

” So neither he who plants not he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow…”
                                                                                                                       1 Corinthians 3:7

A Different Kind of Christmas…

A Different Kind Of Christmas

“The lights around the Christmas tree don’t burn as bright
And all around the world it isn’t a silent night
Outside I hear the voices sing the sweetest sounds of caroling
But somehow there’s a sadness in the song
In our hearts we know that something’s wrong

It’s a different kind of Christmas
In a different kind of world
Even though it looks the same

Everything has changed
It’s a different kind of Christmas…”

 

I love Christmas.  It is hands down my favorite time of the year.  As I type this, it is the 27th of October, and by the end of this week at least one of my Christmas trees will be up, the mantel will be decorated and Christmas music will be playing all day (at least until the Sweet Hubby gets home.  He’s Scroogey.)  I love the lights and the decorations and the music, and the sense of wonder and awe at a Savior who was willing to leave Heaven and come to Earth for someone like me.  Christmas makes me feel like maybe there’s hope for our world…at least for a little while.

I get to do all of these things.  I can decorate my house.  Play Christmas music until the SH runs screaming from the room.  Dress my dachshund up in his Christmas sweater and boots and watch him glare at me from behind the couch.  There will be feasting and fun.

Less than five miles from where I live sits the El Inca women’s prison.  Originally designed to hold about 300 women, it is full to bursting with almost 800 inmates.  It is a grim place.  Most of the women are there because of drugs.  They were used as “mules” by some unscrupulous “boyfriend” who promised them the moon, and then disappeared when they got caught.

We’ve all seen the TV shows where prison inmates have clean cells, bedding, food, privileges…in El Inca when they push you through the door and lock it behind you, you don’t even have a toothbrush.  You want a bed?  Find a way to buy a mattress.  Need soap?  Find something to trade for it.  Hungry?  Too bad.  You’re going to get one meal a day, if you’re lucky.   You spend Christmas in the prison.  Your birthday in the prison.  Watching through the barred windows as life goes on without you.  Anything you need you have a find a way to get.  Women do whatever they can to get a little money.

Alma Libre (Free Soul) is a women’s ministry working here in Quito with the women of the prison.  The goal is to help women accept responsibility for their actions, and make changes on the inside that will allow them to get a fresh start on life when they are released.  Last year for Christmas, Alma Libre was able to give each woman in the prison a gallon bucket filled with soap, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrush, washcloths, lotion…things that allow the women to keep themselves clean and maintain some of their dignity.  This year, they would like to be able to provide each of the women with a set of dishes, a set of silverware, a mug and something pretty such as a bottle of lotion.  The total cost for this project is $10/woman.  For a gift of $10, you can give a woman in prison a plate and silverware so that she doesn’t have to eat with her hands.  A mug that will allow her to have a cup of coffee.  Something pretty to remind her that she is loved.

These women are not all from here…in fact many of them come from other countries.  They grew up in good homes.  They spent Christmas with families who loved them.  They listened to carols.  Ice-skated under the stars.  Drank hot chocolate by a roaring fire.  And they remember doing these things.  When Christmas comes, they remember their “other life”.  The one where they were free.

We cannot shorten their sentence for them.  We cannot get them out and bring them home with us to celebrate Christmas.  There will be no decorated tree in their cell, no special turkey dinner to enjoy…no presents, no family, no nothing.  They will spend Christmas as they have since they arrived–alone.  It is our hope that this year maybe they will realize that they are loved–that the baby came for all of us, including them.  $10 is all it takes to bring Christmas to one of these women.  $10 to let them know that someone, somewhere, cares.

If you would like to help with this outreach, donations may be sent to

Extreme Response International

PO Box 345

Snellville, GA.  30078

Please mark your gift “Alma Libre–Christmas 2013”.

 

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.” ~Emily Dickinson

 

 

 

Back in the game.

Yesterday, for the first time in probably 7 years, I attended the weekly kid’s club at the dump.  One of the drawbacks (among the MANY blessings) of working at the Alliance Academy was that it kept me out of the ministry loop, other than the yearly Christmas parties.  During the last several party weeks, I have found myself very disturbed at the fact that I was essentially just like most of our team members–coming in for the week of the parties but not having much involvement throughout the rest of the year.  Working full-time drained what little energy that my fibromyalgia consented to give me, and left me too exhausted for much else.

At the start of the 2012-2013 school year, Dan and I did a lot of talking and praying about whether or not it was time for me to resign from the school and become more actively involved with Extreme Response.  It was not an easy decision.  I have worked very hard to get my degree in Special Education, and last year I was moved from the library to the classroom.  I was beyond excited and yet I knew in my heart of hearts that it would only be for the one year.  Kristina was graduating, and Patrick’s educational needs were becoming more intense.  In October I talked to my supervisor and essentially turned in a 7 month notice.  There was an immediate peace.  At the end of the year I cleaned out my much-loved classroom, turned in my key, withdrew Patrick and walked out the door into the unknown.

Patrick is being home-schooled now, and so far things are going well for the most part.  I home-schooled my other children when they were small, but even so I found myself very nervous at the prospect of starting over.  I now have three children in college, and the identity crisis that has resulted from this development has left me reeling.  I have no specific job assignment with Extreme Response, which is unnerving for me.  We joined ER in December of 2006, and I went to work at the school in February of 2007.  For the last seven years, Dan and I have had separate identities.  Now all of a sudden he still has his, and I am floating out here without mine.  I now have one child at home instead of four, I’m not working for the first time in years, and the things that I think I want to do don’t seem to be on anyone else’s agenda, including Gods.  He is being conspicuously silent on just exactly what it is He would like for me to throw myself into next.

I mentioned before that I had complete peace about resigning–I still have that.  I know that my time at the school had ended, and so this isn’t really meant to be a “Gee, I really wish I hadn’t done that” post.  It’s more of a “what now?” post.  Going to the dump yesterday felt good, and right, and I enjoyed it.  I told Dan that I would help with it this year, and I am looking forward to that, but it can’t be all that I do.  For one thing, it’s an established ministry…someone else’s passion.

I guess all of this is to ask you to pray for me.  I’m feeling anxious and panicky right now without a defined role anywhere.  I am not a very good “waiter”–I need answers and organization and direction in order to function.  I need a purpose.  A passion.  A hill to die on.  I need to find me.

“Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

 

It’s a dump. No. Really.

Several years ago I was having a chat with my grandmother, when she said, out of the blue, “You keep talking about this ‘dump’ that you work in.  It can’t be that bad-what is it REALLY?”  I had to pause for a moment.  In our modern day vernacular, it’s not unusual to hear people say “Oh, this house is such a dump” or “That place I work in is a real dump.”  People don’t live in dumps, or work in dumps–in fact, most people couldn’t even tell you where the dump was if you asked them.

This past Saturday, I spent the day, along with 2300 other people, in “the dump.”  We played games, ate (that is the true test of having arrived in this ministry-when you are walking along, in “the dump” and realize that you are eating your lunch as you do so–and don’t even think twice about it.) sat on Papa Noel’s lap, made crafts…with lots and lots and lots and lots…of GLITTER! Listened to several different groups provide the Gospel message in their own way, and just generally had a great time.  I worked the entrance this year, as usual.  I love seeing the people arrive, all dressed up in their “Sunday best” for a fun-filled day.  Small children wiggled and fidgeted as their parents tried to keep them quiet until they passed through the line.  Young mothers…really young mothers…came shyly through the line carrying that precious baby that should be a doll instead of a living, breathing reminder that childhood is officially over at the age of 12, or 14, or 17…Little old people whose eyes reflect a lifetime of hardship, hands that are gnarled from years of struggle to provide for their families, backs that are bowed with the weight of a thousand lifetimes.  And yet they smile.  They grasp my hand with their worn one-my rather “pristine” hand that has never really known what it means to work until my fingers cramp and refuse to straighten out.  They look into my eyes with their wrinkled little faces and their wonderful, toothless smiles…sometimes they shyly shake my hand and sometimes they throw their arms around me and whisper “Dios te bendiga, niña” (“God bless you, little girl”)…They come, one and all…from the very tiniest of babies to the little old people who couldn’t tell you their age if you asked…they just know that they have been alive forever.  Little girls, sweet and innocent, for another year at least.  Little boys already swaggering with the first touches of the “bravado” that is the rule here…young men who are too “cool” to be here, and yet want desperately to play games and collect candy and sit on Papa Noel’s lap…

There is one group that always make stop for a moment.  At the end of the party, we hand out gift bags.  They contain about a weeks worth of staples for a family-rice, sugar, salt, flour…Every adult who comes through the gate receives this bag, and each child receives a gift bag with toys, school supplies and hygiene items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste-luxuries here for many.  There is always a group of people who refuse to play the games or see Papa Noel.  They come through the gates and go immediately to the designated area where they will receive their gifts bags…and just wait.  Although we have enough for everyone, and tell them so, they aren’t willing to risk the possibility that maybe, just this time, there won’t be enough, and they will be the one who doesn’t get that food bag that will help them feed their children this week.  They wait, patiently, not willing to take that chance, and go play just that one game over there that looks like it might really be fun…it’s not worth the risk.

I stood and observed this yearly happening with a friend of ours who has lived in several Latin American countries, and seen poverty at it’s very deepest levels.  His insight is refreshing…he gets it.  Poverty is not simply the absence of money.  There is emotional poverty–when life is so hard, for so long, with no end in sight, you simply go through the motions.  No laughter, no joy, no hope.  There is educational poverty.  Contrary to what we might think, lack of education is not ignorance.  Ignorance is knowing what is right, and choosing to do the opposite, out of spite or anger, or whatever.  When you are uneducated, you simply don’t…know.  Education is the “great divide” between developed and undeveloped countries.  It’s human nature to want to learn, to grow, to know.  When that is denied, hope flickers, and dies…leading to emotional poverty.  Poverty, despair and desperation have faces.  They have feelings.  They once had hopes, dreams, and aspirations…now they just exist, waiting.

My grandmother never really understood what I meant when I talked about the dump.  She could not conceive of a place where life was so hopeless.  As I stood there Saturday, remembering that conversation, it hit me.  The “dump” is not a place.  It’s despair and desperation and poverty and anger and frustration…in short…it’s the very world in which we live.  It’s standing in Zambiza watching parents try to forget their worries for a few minutes.  It’s walking down the street and seeing anger overflow in the people as they make their way through the day…

I often say that we have the greatest job in the world.  We get to be a part of changing lives.  We make people smile…we brighten their eyes, even if just for a moment…And we work in a dump.  Full of garbage and thrown away dreams and melted hopes.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s a DUMP, Mamaw.  And you knew in your heart that I was exactly where I wanted to be.  And you let me be there.

Castles

Posted on

I promise-no whining in this post.  Sometimes raw emotion just gets all out of control.  Things haven’t really changed much, but I’m not whining, so that’s good, right?

We’re enjoying our summer here at home.  Dan is with a team from For His Children this week.  That might just be the perfect way to do a missions trip.  Fly to a foreign country and then spend the week rocking babies and playing with mischievous toddlers whose eyes light up just because you’ve walked into the room.  Heather and Kristina are teaching English this month at the Alliance Academy summer school program.  It has been interesting to see their personalities come out with this.  Kristina wants to be a teacher, so this is her dream job.  She has a class of fifth graders, she makes lesson plans and grades papers-it’s perfect.  It’s even her dream grade-she loves this age.  Heather was a little hesitant at first.  She wasn’t sure if teaching was really her thing (but since spending money is definitely her thing, her dad and I decided she would be taking this job!) but she has really thrown herself into it.  She’s teaching 7th graders, and is loving the age, and the classroom, and lesson plans, and teaching…I think both girls are going to be a bit disappointed when school starts in August and they go back to being the student instead of the teacher!

Patrick is attending the sports camp at the school.  He is enjoying being with his friends, and the socialization and activities are good for him.  His speech has improved considerably this year, but our beloved speech therapist returned to the US permanently, so we aren’t sure what next year holds.  Pray for someone to come and take this vital job at the school-Patrick is by no means the only child who needs speech therapy.  Watching Patrick grow and change has been fascinating.  All of our other children were either right on the mark or advanced for their age.  Patrick’s delays and learning issues have reminded us again and again that this is a long journey, not a short trip.  Sometimes our prayer is “Please.  Now.”  And God’s answer is “I will.  But not yet.”  His memory is amazing.  What goes in definitely stays there.  It’s the getting in part that seems to have a little hitch in it’s giddy-up.  We are praying that another year of first grade will jump-start his reading abilities and give him what he needs to move on.

Last week I rode out to our latest house project with Dan, to see for myself what it was all about.  Working full time means that most of what I know about our ministries here I get when Dan and I talk at night and he tells me what his day was like.  I cherish that time of the day, because it gives me a connection to this job that makes my husbands face light up when he talks about it.  This particular project was for a family of five.  Mom, Dad and three children were living with Grandma, along with seven or eight other people.  The house they were living in was actually the first house project that ER did, about five years ago.  It’s a nice little house, but it’s LITTLE.  Especially for that many people.  This year’s project was to get the family their own dwelling.  It’s in the “backyard” of Grandma’s house, but it’s all theirs.  I’m posting some pictures here, because they say far more than my words can.

Castles have many shapes...

Three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and a bathroom.  By our standards, it seems small…but it’s a castle to this family.

Community

The community where we built the house is located in the far south part of the city.  It’s a different world from the northern part, where we live.  It’s kind of like stepping into a National Geographic article.  Below are more pictures of the barrio (neighborhood).

This little piggy lives in the back yard...

Dinner.

The family in the loft of their new home.

There are more than five people in this picture.  Getting a new home is very exciting…for the whole neighborhood!

If I'm really cute, you'll give me that soccer ball, right?

The "Dream team" and the proud homeowners...

Dedicating the home to the Lord and giving the family Bibles.

Owning a home here is beyond the reality of most people.  The poor don’t have bank accounts, credit ratings…They earn enough to buy what they need to eat for the day.  The concept of “saving” doesn’t really exist here.  The thinking is “I need $5 to buy food for today.  That’s how long I’ll work”.  Once they have enough money for their immediate needs, they are done working for the day, or week, or whatever.  The idea of “tomorrow” isn’t really there either.  Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, so why plan for it?  When this family is presented with a home of their own, they are presented with a legacy.  Something tangible to leave their children, that gives them a bit of hope for their future.

Extreme Response exists to change lives.  Offer hope.  Help.  Homes.

35” For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  (Matthew 25: 35-36)