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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



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.


I am not the brave one.

Walking After Midnight...

“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.”

I ran across this quote sometime last week.  It struck me so forcefully that I immediately made it my Facebook status…and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

I am not the brave one.  I don’t take risks.  I have a soul-gripping fear of the unknown, and it doesn’t have to be the “great” unknown.  Shopping at an unfamiliar grocery store is enough to raise my anxiety levels.  People say “Oh!  You’re so brave to live where you do!”  I am here to dispel the myth.  No bravery.  Not even a squeak.  I am one of five children, and all four of my siblings will tell you that I’m not the brave one.  No taking risks.  Slow and steady.  And boring.

I don’t think I’m alone. …

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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


On being a “real” missionary.

Last night was one of those rare opportunities for a long, uninterrupted chat with a good friend.  He’s a former MK, now a missionary living here in Ecuador.  He’s one of those “youngsters” with an old soul.  I love his insight and his wisdom, and he enriches my life in so many ways.

We got on the subject of being a “real” missionary.  It came up because we’ve had a couple of people cross our paths in the last couple of months that remarked to more than one person that they didn’t feel like we were “real” missionaries.  One of them was a young guy who came for a period of about six weeks.  During that time, he complained constantly.  About the food, about the people, about us, about the country…he told me on more than one occasion that he couldn’t believe how “stupid” everything was here.  We really aren’t sure why he came, to be honest.  The other person was a guy who came for a very short time, and he remarked that one of his reasons for coming was to see how “real” missionaries live.  He was here for a grand total of two days.  Forgive me, but I believe that it’s presumptuous to walk into someone’s life and assume that they are so shallow that you can “figure them out” in two days.

We took a hit on several different topics.  We don’t live like “real” missionaries, because we live in houses in the city instead of huts in the jungle.  We aren’t “real” missionaries, because we attend an English speaking international church instead of a Spanish church.  The fact that our church has amazing ministry and outreach happening, to people from all over the world, was apparently irrelevant.  We aren’t “real” missionaries because we aren’t living in a remote village somewhere, preaching to the “natives” (FYI–if you want to see a missionary, “real” or not, get angry real fast, just refer to the people that are our friends, our co-workers and our FAMILIES, as natives.  In the words of Larry the Cable Guy…’that’ll git er done.’)

I wish I had had the opportunity to discuss this with the second guy (The first one I had ample opportunity, but I spent most of our time together trying to control my tongue, because he was just TOO. MUCH.)  I would have asked him where he found his prototype for the “real” missionary.  I suspect that someone, somewhere, influenced his expectations.  Maybe it was a Sunday School teacher, or a book that he read…I really don’t know.  I would have asked him if he had ever spent any time with any “real” missionaries (obviously we don’t count) and if so, what it was about them that made them “real”.

I know missionaries from all over the world.  I know guys who are working to rescue women from sex trafficking in India.  I know a couple who has a passion for street boys, and is opening a home for them in Manila.  My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are passionate about reaching the people living in very remote areas of Papua New Guinea, where they live and serve.  Friends in South Africa have a school to teach women trades that allow them to gain employment and support their families.  I know missionaries working in prisons.  In orphanages.  In schools.  In the jungle.  In the city.  In offices.  In garbage dumps.  In Hong Kong.  In England.  In India.  In Ecuador.  In Peru.  In Africa.  In the United States.  Yes, I know passionate, committed missionaries who are living in the US.  In houses.  In cities.  Shopping at Walmart.  And they are making a difference.  I know MK’s who have gone back to their “home” countries, and are igniting a passion for the world on their college campuses.  They are making a difference.  I know people all over the world whose lives are a living testimony.  They have secular jobs.  Church jobs.  They’ve lived all over the world.  They’ve lived in the same house since they were born.

I guess my point is this.  “Real” missionaries are people who responded to the burden that the Lord placed on their hearts, to reach the people that He placed before them.  Some of us live in very remote areas.  Some live in cities.  I have friends who have committed their lives to the armed forces, defending our freedom all over the world…and they are MISSIONARIES.  They work tirelessly to reach the people where they are placed.

It’s not about your house.  It’s about your heart.  It’s about being the hands and feet of Jesus to those around you, whether it’s in the deepest part of the Amazon jungle or in Suburbia, USA.  We are real people.  With a real passion.  About a real Jesus.  We are “real” missionaries.

“When you did unto the least of these…”

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 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: 34-36

I’ve read this passage a hundred times…and I still don’t get it.  In the practical sense, I mean.  I get it, that we are to love our neighbor, make sure he’s got food and clothing, intrude on the walls of his prison (even the self-imposed prison) and visit.  I think this means “visit” in the sense of “I’m going to walk into your mess, whether you created it yourself or someone else created it for you, and I’m going to shove the dog off the couch and sit down and get dog hair all over my clothes, and put my feet up on the only clean spot on the coffee table and just…sit here.  We don’t have to say anything.  Or we can say everything.  Your choice.  But I’m going to sit here until I know you’re OK–even just a little bit.”  The thing is…we do those things for our FRIENDS.  Our FAMILY.  Our SAFE PEOPLE.

I’m pretty sure that’s not what He meant.  I’m pretty sure He meant it in the “Hey, homeless guy on the street.  Scoot over and let me share that cardboard box with you.  Or better yet, come with me.  Take my hand and come home, and walk into my mess, and shove the dog off the couch and get dog hair all over you, and put your feet up on the only clean spot on the coffee table…and let’s just sit here.  Or we can talk.  Your choice” sense.  I’m not good at this.  I don’t even invite people I KNOW over.  It’s exhausting for me to even think about it.  I think my problem is that I’m supposed to be the one without the mess.  I assume that because I have a couch, and a dog, and a coffee table…that I should be the fixer.  And I can’t fix.  I can sit, and shove, and put my feet up, and listen…or not listen…but I can’t fix.  It doesn’t say I have to though.  All of those thing He mentions…those are tangible.  Food, clothing, a visit…I can do those.  We can do those.  And WE, together, did this earlier this month.

Three weeks ago, we found out that our workers at the dump were not getting paid.  We are not in charge of paying them, in fact we intentionally don’t get involved there–it’s very political and that’s not our place.   We found out that because the workers weren’t getting paid, they weren’t able to buy school supplies for their children.  Every penny they had was going to keeping food on the table.  In this country, you simply cannot attend school without school supplies.  They won’t let you in.  And it’s more than just pencils and paper…it’s textbooks and workbooks and uniforms as well.  Schools here provide NOTHING but a desk and a chair–and sometimes not even that.  Our littlest ones were in trouble.  THAT we can get involved in.  We immediately put out the call via a Facebook campaign.  We asked for $1500, to ensure that our children had what they needed.  And you answered.  Within less than a week, the money was there, the school supplies were purchased, and the little ones were back in school.  The “least of these”, who through no fault of their own didn’t even have the most basic of supplies…are OK now.   Because you all got involved.  You shoved the dog off the couch, cleared off the coffee table and piled it with what they needed…and you never said a word.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Matthew 25:40

Coffee beans

I’m reading a book called “How coffee saved my life” by a missionary to Uruguay.  In the book she talks about mate (mah-tay), which is a tea that they drink in many parts of Latin America, including here in Ecuador.  One of the things about mate is that it serves as an appetite suppressant, which is essential when you don’t have enough food to eat to begin with.  The author talks about the social part of mate.  You don’t drink it alone.  It’s a part of a very social culture.

I started thinking about coffee, and how coffee “works” here in Ecuador.  I am an avid coffee drinker.  I take my travel mug with me to work every day-Starbucks, of course.  I collect Starbucks travel mugs, much to the frustration of my loving hubby.  When we were packing to come to the field, before I had started my travel mug collection, I had a bunch of $.25 mugs that I had picked up at Goodwill along the way.  I decided that I didn’t need to bring them, since they surely would be available here.  Or not.  When we came in 2004, travel mugs were almost unheard of.  In fact, the regular coffee cups were miniature-made for Lilliputians.  I was quickly initiated into the “coffee culture” of Ecuador…and it may have been the most culture shock that I went through.

Coffee here is a social event.  It’s not about the coffee itself.  Which is good, because “good” coffee here-at least to my Ecuadorian friends-consists of Nescafe (instant) poured into hot water with copious amounts of hot milk and sugar added.  It tastes like what I would imagine motor oil sweetened with sugar would taste like.  When we first came, and after I made it clear to my sweet hubby that I DON’T drink instant coffee, and that in the interest of marital harmony and staying on the field for longer than three days, we needed to find a coffee maker and real coffee, we discovered that “real” coffee was just as bad.  Prior to about 2006, Ecuador exported all of the good coffee and left the dregs to those of us who lived here.  Fortunately for all involved, the country has seen the error of it’s ways, and we now actually have really GOOD coffee.  Although most of my Ecuadorian friends still prefer motor oil.

I mentioned that coffee is a social event.  You don’t really see people here carrying travel mugs, or driving around with a mug of coffee in their car.  Coffee is meant to be shared.  Every day around 10:00 in the morning, most places have “cafecito”, or “little coffee”.  For about half an hour, they share their coffee and their lives, juntos (together).  When people get together socially outside of work, it involves coffee.  We have Juan Valdez and Sweet and Coffee, both of which are coffee spots.  You almost never see people get a coffee to go.  It involves sitting down at a table and being a part of the world around you, even for just a few minutes.  At Starbucks, in the US, you see people sitting in a corner with their coffee and their computer.  Here that doesn’t  happen as frequently.  In this culture you don’t “disengage” yourself from the world.

This has been quite a challenge for me.  I am painfully shy, and very introverted.  I need to be able to disengage on a regular basis in order to be able to engage.  Coffee for me represents solitude, tranquility and peace.  I love the way that it smells-the aroma itself is refreshing.  I have learned however, to appreciate the social part of coffee.  I can go to cafecito and enjoy the company of others.  I usually take my own mug and it’s often filled with my own coffee.  (OK fine.  I’ll admit it.  I’m a coffee snob.  No motor oil, no Lilliputian cups, no styrofoam (NO STYROFOAM) cups, no artificial creamer.  And no percolated coffee.  I’m a snob.  Admitting it is the first step to healing, although I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.)  I’m still not likely to contribute too much to the conversation-I’ll just listen, Thank You.  But I’m learning.  After 7+ years here, it is amazing how much I still have to learn.  I’m glad learning involves coffee.  It makes the journey that much sweeter.