Isaiah 43:1-3, 7, 10-13

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior... Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.... “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”
Isaiah 43:1-3, 7, 10-13

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Top Twenty Pics from Christmas 2010

Decorating the Christmas tree

Visiting the gingerbread house display

Making a gingerbread house with Nyanya

Baking with Nyanya

Visiting Santa Claus

Playing in the snow

Cousin time

At Chuck E Cheese's

Music time with Nyanya

At the ice festival... BRRRR! It was cold!

Playing games with Nyanya and Babu

At Greenfield Village

Is it worth it?

The 'Thinking Ahead' part of the RAFT process is always the most difficult for me. I do not, for the most part, enjoy change. Often it is hard for me to imagine what our 'new' life will be like. How new relationships, though different, may be as special as the old. How a new house will one day feel familiar as home. How this new work, with it's own struggles and joys, will be as fulfilling as what we have done. How a new place, a new country, a new culture will one day have its own place in my heart. It's easier to live in the nostalgia of the past. To be quite honest, I have not been ready to 'move on', mentally, physically or emotionally until the last few days. I guess God knew I needed this buffer of time between lives to process and refocus.

Moving is always hard. Moving internationally comes with its own set of compounded difficulties. So many things you have to think about tying off in person before you leave... so many details to think about for the future. The last couple months have been full of 'drama' for lack of a better word... one situation after another. Here are a few of the situations we have been dealing with both before and after leaving Cochabamba.

*For better or worse, we made the decision to take our dogs with us to Ecuador. It was a decision based solely on the children. Jana loves the dogs. When we arrived back in August, she was outside all the time, playing with them, loving on them. We decided that it might be one other 'constant', another tie to our lives in Bolivia, one less goodbye for them to say. So we checked into all the details of transporting them, talked to the airlines on several different occasions, got their shots and papers in order 2 weeks before we left, bought kennels and ran all over town trying to find the water bottles the airline required. Everything seemed to be in order. The dogs flew with us to Santa Cruz and we were all set to go... Josh would fly with us to Miami and then to Quito with the dogs (where they would stay with his folks) to receive the container, while the girls and I continued on to my parents in Detroit. We arrived at the airport with 3 children, 2 dogs and 8 bags and I could tell by the look on Josh's face that something was wrong as he was checking in. He came to inform me that 2 weeks prior to our flight, AA had changed their policy and no longer allowed pug-nosed dogs to travel. We had bought our tickets 3 months prior... would they honor the tickets? No... no allowances. What to do? Pregnant wife is an emotional basket case... trying to hold it together for the kids, and doing a terrible job of it. 2 hours before our flight left. We checked into Josh flying with the dogs on another airline and just eating the cost of his AA ticket.... and ran into problem #2. Bolivian immigration would not allow the girls and I to board our AA flight without Josh. In Bolivia, there is a law that one parent traveling alone with a child must have a signed, notarized permission form from the other parent, approved by a judge, to travel outside of the country. Since we were all traveling together, we didn't get those forms, and even though Josh was there in person, telling immigration the situation and that we could travel without him, they would not let us on board the plane without him. No mercy... no allowances. 1 hour before our flight leaves.... what to do?!?! Our 2 dogs are sitting at the airport in their kennels... and we have a plane to catch. We start calling any and all of our contacts in Santa Cruz.... finally get a hold of an elder and his wife in one of the churches there... can they come to pick up the dogs? Praise God for friendships in Jesus. They agreed. We left the dogs, boarded our plane with not a minute to spare. I cried for about the first half-hour of the flight.

*Situation #2. As much as we would have like to take our car with us to Ecuador (it really was the perfect car for our family and for mission work!), it was logistically impossible to import/export it to Ecuador. We were very thankful to find buyers without even having to advertise... the Christian camp where we have held our family camps for 3 years told us they wanted to buy it. We asked if they could wait until 2 weeks before we left, so we could continue to use it. The day we had set for signing the papers arrived... problem number one: they didn't have the money together, could we wait till the week before we left? We agreed. A week passed... problem number two: their mission board decided they wanted to do an in depth police check on the car. We were very perturbed. Why did they have to wait till the week before we left to decide this? They had known for 3 months they were going to purchase the vehicle. The police check would not be able to be accomplished before we left the country. But at that point, what could we do? There was no time to find another buyer. We quickly prepared a power of attorney to allow a brother in the church to sell the car for us. The next week, after we had arrived in the US, we got a call. Something was very wrong. Even though all of our papers were in order, the police had 'discovered' that the car was a stolen vehicle (most likely stolen years ago and then brought across the border into Bolivia), the original number had been filed off and replaced. So although we had papers leading back to the first original owner in Bolivia (the car had been owned by 3 previous owners) and when we purchased the car everything appeared to be in order, when the missions board insisted on the in-depth police check, they turned up this discrepancy. The car was impounded with no realistic chance of getting it released or being able to sell it... and just like if you get stuck with a fake $100 bill and it's perforated in front of you.... your loss... we got to say goodbye to $12,000. We were sick.

*Situation #3. We decided to ship a 20 ft. container of personal items and some household goods to Ecuador. A month before we left, we packed up our house, jumped through all the hoops to get all the papers in order, loaded the container, and sent it off. The plan being that the container would arrive in Ecuador, Josh would be able to fly there and get the paperwork started to release it before Christmas, and our things would be waiting for us upon our arrival in March. Everything seemed to go fine, more or less, that first week. Josh has described the process as a bit of a scavenger hunt... go here and get this signature... go there and buy this envelope... get this document notarized... get colored, notarized, translated, apostilized, and consulized copies of your family's passports (seriously!)... Every day it seemed like some new requirement. And then, middle of January, we got an email from the agent helping us, saying that the had changed their policy at the beginning of the new year (again!) and the owner of the container was now required to be physically present, with a visa in hand, for the release of the container, or they would ship our stuff back to Bolivia. So we rushed around getting all our papers in order... made a fast trip to Chicago to get our visas (which came through... praise the Lord!)... and sent Josh off for the 2nd time to Ecuador to secure the release of our things. After 10 days of more running around and paperwork, they released our container and our things, as of Sunday, have now arrived safely at Josh's parents house in Quito.

And in the midst of all of these situations (and other smaller ones besides), we have been in the process of fundraising, which as several people have said in the past, is anything but 'fun'! And there is no end in sight, even though we leave for Ecuador in less than 2 weeks.

A part of me has been wondering over the past few weeks whether this transitory life is worth it. Would it not be easier to come back to the country where you are a citizen... to find a job still serving the Lord (but without the need to fundraise your own salary)... to buy a car and a house on credit... to have free good public schools (in most places) or the community and resources to really pursue quality homeschooling... Is it worth it? All the things you give up in both going and coming... all the losses you face? Call it a personal pity party if you will. But as a very wise counselor told me in Brazil, God will be God. He has been stripping away many of my confidences and my securities to remind me that it is all about Him. We have been studying the book of Luke in Bible class on Sunday morning and the book of Romans in ladies Bible class on Tuesday, and every week, through so many passages of Scripture, He has gently reminded me how much he gave up for me... humbly bringing me to the realization that the things that I have given up are really very minute indeed... that they are simply the only response to what He has done for me. And that what I have gained - in relationships, in experiences, and most of all in my walk with Him - is invariably, invaluably so much more. That His grace and mercy have brought me into relationship with Him... and that is all that is needed. Everything else on my part results from the natural, overflowing gratefulness of that relationship with Him. Not that I feel like He has negated my feelings... or that it has become somehow miraculously easier. I feel like the Spirit's quiet presence has acknowledged my struggles, and yet redirected me into a more humble posture before him... He loves me so much, how can I give anything less than my all to him? I feel like I don't have the words to describe the quiet, gentle prodding that He has given me during this time here in Livonia. Prodding to look back with thankfulness... and move on to serve with gratefulness.

So is it worth it? Yes, He is worth it... because I was worth it to Him.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Goodbye to Cochabamba

The day of our goodbyes inevitably arrived. The church held a farewell dinner for us the Thursday before we left. I think my eyes were wet practically the whole night as we listened to different brothers and sisters share, as I watched the students in the Bible class I helped teach perform a creative dance, as we listened to the jovenes sing a song they had worked hard to prepare. The sign they prepared said it the best though, "This is not a goodbye... this is just 'See you later'."

And the hard part sometimes about goodbyes is that you have to do them twice. Our last Sunday and the day we left, Josh preached, and we had a special party for the kids during class time. My students prepared a special table and cards for me.

And then again at the airport. It was very special to have so many show up to see us off... to walk through security to the sound of their singing "Unidos." United... united by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Certain of our hope of heaven.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Bulls' goodbye and a Tribute to Team

A lot of transitions and changes happened in the life of our team and church in the last year. The biggest of these was the Bulls' announcement at the beginning of the year of their plans to leave in November of 2010, followed by our announcement in August of our plans to leave a mere 6 weeks after the Bulls. A missionary's job is a strange one; as my husband so often puts it... we're trying to work ourselves out of a job. And although we had initially planned to stay in Bolivia longer (In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9), we are thankful for the 2 strong, faithful team families we are leaving behind, and for the brothers and sister of the congregation (who, in spite of their relative youth in the faith in so many instances and their regret over the departure of 2 leading families) are stepping up to resume responsibilities for the overall health of the church. And ultimately... it is all about Him. He has done this work from the beginning - using us, wonder of wonders... His flawed but willing vessels - and He will carry it on to completion.

It is a bittersweet experience to say goodbye to teammates with whom you have invested so much time and energy and memories and life... many things and life events that not many other people may understand or have shared. There is a feeling of 'shared history', and of having endured and celebrated many aspects of life together. As I have been editing this blog book, I have been struck by the enormity of this shared history... both in my/our life and in the lives of my children. These are the people who have been present on the day of my childrens' births, who have celebrated our family's milestones, who have born the daily burden of ministry with us... rejoicing over the good and sharing struggles, who have known the ins and outs of our daily lives, who have been in and out of our front door more than anyone else, who have experienced the joys and frustrations of culture shock. "Team' is definitely a form of family... replete with all of the benefits and drawbacks.

Our church gave the Bulls a farewell luncheon a couple weeks before they left Bolivia. It was a beautiful and emotional time, as different ones shared and thanked the Bull family. We ended by praying over their family and their future. As I stood at the goodbye luncheon and then again at the airport as we saw them off, I remember feeling overwhelmed by a feeling of almost panic... that in a few short weeks, it would be me standing there saying difficult goodbyes.

And here the RAFT process continues... Before we left Bolivia, I intended to write a note to each of our team families to affirm the part they have played in my life, but it was one of those things that got buried along with many other good intentions. And so I figure here is as good a place as any. In alphabetical order, I might add.

Bulls: Gary and Laura, I have always admired the effort which you invested in 'making your life' in Bolivia. Gary, for one who came with very little Spanish, the time and effort you put into learning how to communicate was admirable. You all figured out how to make life work for you in Bolivia, and you did it. Laura, I admire the way you ran around town... discovering the best places to buy things... making relationships with all the little stores around your apartment. Both of you, with your organizational strengths, provided structure for our team and for our church. Your 'behind the scenes service' (in the kitchen, in the area of church finances) was invaluable. Laura, I will treasure the times we were able to pray and have coffee, and late night movies at the theatre (usually instigated by you :) and long phone conversataions. Gary, I know Josh appreciated the days on the golf course... recreational ministry as he calls it :) I have often thought in the last few months, too, about how God uses specific people in a time and place, when they are willing, to attract others to the Lord. I think your presence and friendship with ones like Jhonny and Ligia and their family was key in drawing them to the Lord. Thank you for sharing your boys with us, when (especially Josh) felt overpowered by females :) I will always treasure their unique personalities. We love you!

Forbesses: Jeff and Katie, every team needs a couple like you. Your unending compassion for people, your social connections that interest many in the church and the Lord, your ideas for outreach have all contributed in a great way. Your home was a revolving door for our team and church, and you were always ready to welcome someone (or some event) into your home and lives. Both of you, with your gift for teaching, were able to reach out and connect with a variety of different people... from English classes, to Bible classes, to helping families with children with special needs. Katie, you were the catalyst for our ladies ministry. Your love for Bolivia and the culture was always evident in the way you lived and experienced life. Katie, just as every team needs a couple like you, every introvert (me!) needs a friend like you. Thank you! Jeff and Katie, thank you both for the sincere interest you took in the lives of our children, and for fostering the friendships that grew up between our kids, both through school and play dates and special events. As one TCK raising 4 more, I will always be grateful for the memories my children have with yours. We will always be thankful for date and prayer nights! Thank you for being the ones willing to try out new places with us, for your sense of adventure, and for your flexibility. We love you!

Sandovals: Butch and Trish, we have been so thankful for your wisdom and experience on our team. You provided a stability in an era of many life changes for us, although in reality, you were experiencing just as many life changes in the lives of your family too! You have been gracious in all things. You have loved and cared for our children as if they were of your family. You provided some much needed date nights for which we will be eternally grateful - in some cases on very short notice :) Trish, the classes you provided for our toddlers have given them an unforgettable foundation in the Scripture and in life skills. They have a joy for going to Bible class that they might not have had if you had not provided them such a nurturing, supportive environment. Butch, from finding Barbie dolls to 'snoogles'... our girls never doubted your love for them. Your home and your hearts were always open both to the team and to the church and provided for many a safe haven in the middle of town in which to retreat. Each and every one felt special and welcome in your home... and I for one am grateful for the many delicious 'cafes' and meals... and for a clean bathroom when I needed one :) Butch, your classes at the Conexion have touched countless lives, and both you and Trish have provided a much needed balance in leadership of correction and encouragement. Trish, your creativity is really astounding! I never tired of seeing your 'works of art' and you provided a beauty to so many activities that would not have been there otherwise. We love you!

I'm sure that these words, although heartfelt and sincere, don't really do justice to all the ways each of you have contributed to the work and our lives in the last few years. The years we have spent with you all (the whole team) are unforgettable. Our lives are forever changed, and we will be grateful always that God gave us the opportunity to know you and work with you. Our prayers continue with you, even though our lives are now taking different paths. Thank you for your love for us, your love for the Lord, and your faithful service in His kingdom.

Baby Shower!

The ladies of the congregation threw a baby shower for Katie and I in November. It was a really lovely time of sisterly fellowship, and Trish and Ligia really outdid themselves with the decorations (the 'safari cake' is made out of diapers, believe it or not!). And yes.... the blue decorations are mine this time!! We found out in early November that we are indeed having a boy!! The ladies really showered us with love and made it a memorable time with games and special treats.

End of the Year School Program

Schools in Bolivia get out at the end of November. So thankfully, we were able to celebrate the end of the school year with the girls' preschool friends. We have been so thankful for Rise and Shine. It has been an excellent preschool: bilingual, with great teachers and good cross-section of Bolivian and foreign friends. It has provided a great education and social outlet for our children. I cried during each of the girls parent/teacher conferences at the end of the year because I have been so thankful for each of their teachers and I am sad to leave the comfortable, safe atmosphere they have provided.

Their end of school program was full of songs and dances and even a little drama that the girls (and their teachers... who are we kidding?? I know who does the majority of the work in these things!) worked so hard to prepare. Michaela did a traditional Bolivian dance, called the tinku, with her class. She was also the mother cat in "The 3 little kittens who lost their mittens." Eliana sang 2 songs and did a Hindu dance (I about died when my 4 year old girl came out on stage dressed in a sari and doing a belly dance!), but she did a fantastic job. Jana sang 2 songs.... well, made it through one and then saw me and lost it and had to come sit with me. As a teacher, I always wondered if parents actually enjoyed school programs, or if they just endured them. Now as a parent, I can say.... I enjoy it, boring parts and all. It is a joy seeing my children perform and seeing them interact with their teachers and their friends. Thank you, Rise and Shine, for the wonderful part you played in our lives in Cochabamba!