Saturday, November 17, 2018

Thankful for This Season (Craziness and All)

Someday I'll want to remember the craziness that was our life in this season. This season of juggling six unique kiddos and multiple ministries. Of people in and out of our home for Bible studies, discipleship, music practice and many meals! This season of gladness for God's goodness and sorrow for our shortcomings. Of wondering, "Are we making a difference ... should be doing more ... and/or when should we be doing less?" Of gratitude for what we have (and often guilt for what we have.) This season of seeing God's faithfulness and seeking His sustaining grace. 

Life and ministry are beautiful, and they are hard. It's not always that any one thing is hard but that the pace and pressure of going and being and doing and receiving sometimes seems to careen out of control. Fulfilling and frustrating, exhilarating and exhausting, wonderful and wearisome - on any given day, all of these are true. Let's take today (Saturday) for an example.

1. I rose early and made breakfast smoothies. 
2. I snuggled a sleepy Silas and gave him a bottle.
3. I woke up Isabel for her brigada training.
4. Pedro drove Isabel downtown to brigada.
5. Pedro and I met with the president of the junta de vecinos to discuss church plant rental of sede.
6. We went to Lider (grocery store) to purchase lunch and dinner supplies, and withdraw cash for sede rental.
7. Pedro had a leadership meeting with fellow missionaries via Skype.
8. I drove the boys downtown to basketball and Silas fell asleep in the car.
9. I drove home with sleeping Silas but received a call from Isabel to return downtown for pick up from brigada.
10. I picked up Isabel, dropped her at home and picked up Eva to go to the airport.
11. We collected our new missionary colleague Jenn Taylor at the airport and drove home.
12. Pedro retrieved the boys from basketball and brought them home.
13. Pedro drove back downtown to pick up Richard who asked to borrow our kitchen to prepare a Bolivian meal for Sunday. 
14. Felipe arrived unexpectedly to help Richard with meal preparations.
15. I took Jenn to connect with missionary colleagues and a realtor to see a potential apartment.
16. Pedro grilled out and prepared dinner for our family and guests (11 people total) in our absence.
17. We came home to set the table, eat dinner, and wash dishes.
18. I contacted the owner of an apartment to finalize details for our missionary Thanksgiving retreat.
19. I communicated via WhatsApp with one of the attendees regarding Thanksgiving menu details.
20. I gave Silas his bath and bedtime bottle and snuggled him to sleep.
21. I had a discussion with another child regarding an earlier discipline issue.
22. Meal preparations (including lengthy meat pounding) continued downstairs to a late hour.
23. Pedro drove Richard and Felipe home (to return the next day at 8:30 AM and continue preparations.)
24. I wrote an e-mail update to share prayer requests with our partners.
25. Eva asked to stay up late because her guppy fish was giving birth.
26. Pedro and I went to bed around midnight.
27. We ended our day to the sound of one neighbor singing loud karaoke and another loudly yelling. :)

So I look at this list and I ask myself, "What did we accomplish in ministry today?" I am reminded that oftentimes ministry doesn't fit into the neat little boxes we wish it would. But I know that today we ministered to our church family by following through on the appointment made earlier in the week and procuring an answer for our meeting place. I believe we ministered to our children by facilitating the activities that round out their home education and provide healthy physical and social outlets for them. I trust we ministered to our new missionary colleague by preparing a comfortable place for her to stay and welcoming her to Iquique and coordinating an apartment visit as she looks forward to returning permanently. I hope we ministered to Richard, a foreigner new to Iquique with no real home to call his own, by providing a place to fulfill a heartfelt desire and welcome his friends on his birthday. I also hope that by following through on details for the Thanksgiving retreat, we are ministering to our extended missionary colleagues and that by writing a prayer update we are ministering to our supporting churches and stateside friends

Most of all, I hope that we pleased God with our attitudes, actions and intentions. Ultimately He is the One we seek to serve each crazy day! I thank God for our family and the ways we are stretched and growing in this season. For our girls, who shuffle bedrooms whenever overnight guests some to stay. For our boys, who pitch in to move furniture inside and outside when we unexpectedly host church or 35 people for a birthday meal. Most of all, for my husband who does anything and everything from preparing sermons to preparing meals whenever and wherever needed. I am also extremely grateful for our missionary colleagues who stand in for family and embrace our children as their own grandchildren to teach and mentor in this stage of life. For every challenge, there is an equal and greater blessing. And so I am thankful for this season, craziness and all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

#GodOurProvider #AdoptionIsLove


To concerned cries of "Careful, Mom!" and "Sweets, what are you doing?!" I carefully climbed a chair in the corner to capture this shot of my sweet family. It was Sunday afternoon, and we were in letdown mode after the frenzy of sweeping, setting up and serving our church plant by opening our home for the second week in a row. A lovely side benefit of having church in our home is a clean downstairs in which to relax or hosts guest afterwards! On this particular occasion, it was just the eight of us. For reasons unknown, our children were surprisingly delighted with the simple meal of chili awaiting in the crockpot and that certainly helped to set a pleasant mood. 

As I looked around the table, it warmed my heart to see every chair filled. I thought back to a dozen years ago when the table was purchased. It is a precious memory in and of itself, a time when God provided in a marvelous way as we were striking out on our family's missionary journey. Driving down a winding Michigan lane, we passed a roadside tent with furniture for sale and decided to take a minute and stop. It turned out the owner would purchase the final model of different store pieces to re-sell, so there was an assortment of just about anything and everything. As we talked, he asked questions and learned of our need to purchase affordable household items to ship to Chile. At the time we had only three small children ages five and under and had gone from living for a year in a furnished missionary home to a small rental with just bare necessities. We needed to be free to travel to language school in southern Texas when our final support came in and God said "Go!" Any furniture we purchased would be directly stored and then shipped to Chile at the completion of our training.

With this in mind, the owner walked us through the tent and several other storage rooms, taking note of what might work for our family's needs. We tried thinking ahead to the less-spacious housing in Chile where traditional American-style furniture would be far too large. Reaching the rustic wooden table seating eight in a square when fully opened, it seemed a perfect fit. At this point, however, I thought we were mostly dreaming because I could not imagine a new dining room set and four bedroom sets within our budget! The children's twin beds and dressers were simple yet when it came to our bedroom, he asked us to choose between several beautiful pieces. Finally done, he carefully added up the cost of our choices on paper. He then presented the total to us with the question, "Do you think this will work for you?"

To be honest, we had no idea because we'd never made a purchase of this magnitude all at once. We asked for twenty-four hours to talk and pray, seeking advice from missionary colleagues already on the field to compare with the cost of items available in Chile. Quickly we realize that the owner had offered us an amazingly generous price. This man we had never met before was also a believer and simply said it was a way he could support God's work. To top it all off, he added one more item to our list: a lovely glider rocker made of solid wood. Through three children this had been a dream item as a young mother. I asked the price and his answer was, "This one is free."

Years later, perched in a corner and looking around our dining room table, I remember his generosity although I do not remember his name. We first unpacked our table in a cute little home in Santiago (emphasis on little!) Five of us sat around the table then. Next the table took its place in Iquique. The store owner's generosity has touched more lives than he will ever know, as for nearly ten years this table has hosted dozens if not hundreds of breakfasts, almuerzos and onces for people we love in this city. Eventually, seven of us sat around the table regularly as a family. And now every single seat is filled as we eight Garcias surround the table and call it home.  Because God provided far more than a table. In this month to celebrate adoption, I celebrate that He also provided: a family.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Happy 3rd Birthday to Silas!

It is a fact that Silas loves birthdays. He loves balloons. He loves cake. He loves presents. He loves bunches of people! His face lights up as brightly as the birthday candles and his only complaint when he saw his single #3 candle was, "I want more candles!" (This may have had something to do with attending a party for a friend's 68th birthday the night before, and she had LOTS of candles!)

For weeks prior to his birthday we kept hearing the eager question, "This my birthday?" We had two other parties in the days just before his, which only added to his anticipation (and confusion!) So it was with a sigh of relief and joy last Sunday that we could finally say, "Yes, Silas! Today's your birthday!"

Our festivities began with company for lunch after church. Aunt Pam and Uncle Jon (missionary colleagues) and Tia Cata (FLORECE colleague) joined us for spaghetti lunch, one of Silas' favorite meals. Afterwards Tia Cata provided an impromptu haircut on the back patio for the birthday boy! We allowed Silas to open a couple of presents to ease the anxious waiting until 5:30 PM when our other guests were expected. Meanwhile Pedro and Isabel drove across town for the tres leches cake from our favorite "cake guy" Daniel. On their return they picked up three guests, our friend and babysitter Tia Eli and a FLORECE client who is her temporary houseguest. Sweet, tiny baby Rafaela came with her mother. Silas had already been asking for a chance to hold her and was so delighted when we carefully supported her in his arms!

As is not unusual in Chile, the scheduled time came and went with no sign of further guests. And then all at once about an hour later, it seemed like everyone came at once! Twenty-eight people squeezed into our living room and spilled out the front door. Silas was in his glory, greeting each new friend and gratefully grabbing each offered gift. Perhaps a bit more chaotic than planned, but certainly a sweet blessing to see so many who love him and wished to celebrate his special day.

Dear Silas,

You are three years old! What joy you have brought to our family in those three years. Mommy and Daddy and every one of your brothers and sisters love you so much. You make us laugh with your bright-eyed antics, and surprise us with all you have learned in such a short time! Our home is so much busier and better with you in it. God certainly knew what He was doing when he sent you to us so unexpectedly.

You are only three years old, but we often joke that in your own mind you are every bit as big as your brothers! If they ride bikes, you ride bikes. If they do school, you "do school." Recently you shocked us by naming most of the letters of the alphabet, which we had not even taught you but you caught doing "school" on Starfall while your siblings studied. Perhaps the only "little boy" habit you have yet to lose is your bedtime bottle which you so dearly love (and we cherish the snuggles that go with it!)

Since your last birthday, you have come through many changes with our return to Chile and yet you continue to embrace life and the people you love. You take special care to remember and use names, which always strikes us as very alert and sweet. Your play dates each week with your friend Emilia are precious memories. This coming year will have even more changes as you potty train and enter pre-school and practice your Spanish each day. But what won't change is our love for you.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Silas Eben Garcia!

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

Silas' 2nd Birthday Post
Silas' 1st Birthday Post

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Day after Day

There's just a handful of us when we begin to sing. I look across the front of the room and my heart smiles to see them: Ian, ten years old and keeping a tentative beat on the bongos; Felipe, college student, friend and guitar teacher to Owen, thirteen years old and carefully picking his way from one note to another; Isabel, fifteen and contributing one-handed chords on the keyboard for added melody; and ten-year old Alec, switching screens on the PowerPoint as our few but healthy voices raise in praise. My husband leads us in singing while next to me squirms Silas, a few weeks shy of three years old and beside him keeping a watchful eye is seventeen-year old sister Eva. This is Sunday morning and bright sunshine lifts my spirits as God's Word is preached and theology creatively taught through the brief hours we meet together.


It's hard to find a time our schedules mesh as I'm home most days homeschooling while she's gone every day, long hours on her feet at a mentally and physically demanding job. It's an endless cycle created by a family financial crisis, leading to early mornings and late nights and little time with her children who hearts have turned spiritually cold and devastated hers. We meet to talk, listen and pray. I have no simple answers to offer, as much as I wish for a magic wand to make all the heartache go away. I know God is here and I know He is able, but circumstances seem so impossible and the daily tension wreaks havoc on her health in every way. How long, oh Lord? And how far might they stray? Yet what steps of faith do You require? We bow our heads in the coffee shop and seek His promises, walking slowly home together towards another week and waiting hopefully for His work to be seen.


And then it's late and trying to create, at the center setting up for a different kind of day. With my daughter and a friend, preparing tables and exploring ideas and yawning when the reloj reaches midnight and my husband sends a text asking, "Are you coming home?" Meanwhile there is still a drive back across town and tomorrow's breakfast dish to prepare before the night is through. But all's well that ends well and the next day is a success, companionable and relaxing and reflecting on the blessing of what we are called to do together as volunteers at the pregnancy center known as FLORECE.


In the morning our hearts are encouraged as we circle the tables for breakfast and watch two testimonies of transformation only God can inspire in broken lives. Imagination and laughter, conversation and cards make the hours pass quickly until I am home at last, only to find Pedro wishes I would join him and the kids and a few others at the beach to finish the day. Over bumpy off-roads and rocky shores we discover the delight of tide pools and starfish against the task of a containing a toddler from fiery flames and slippery stones as dusk falls. It's a beautiful night and lovely way to end the holiday as tomorrow we face school once again.


Facing school is like facing a giant and it's a day when nothing turns out as it should. One child coughing and sneezing and leaving work half done to head back to bed. Another hitting a wall in writing and ignoring it while a dozen more assignments quickly pile. Two more needing uninterrupted help which cannot be had, and the clock striking noon when a scheduled Skype meeting puts further school on hold. A headache brews and yet the day finally ends with smiles around the table, Pedro's Bible study with a searching friend and one tuckered toddler saying, "Mommy, I tired" before his head hits the pillow and he is softly asleep.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

One September Sunday

What a whirlwind of a week swept through our home with Chile's patriotic holidays! While officially celebrated on September 18 and 19, most people enjoyed multiple days off work and children in national schools were given an entire week away from their studies. Although our kids endured a few hours of home schooling during the week, for the most part our family also experienced quite a different rhythm to our days. We hosted multiple cookouts, including a meal with our next door neighbors and another with the families on the leadership team of the new church plant. The latter turned out far more exciting than planned when an offhand comment resulted in an impromptu palm tree uprooting (to be later replanted elsewhere.) Pedro jokingly called this a great team building exercise!

One very memorable day was the Sunday (September 16) before the holidays. I was at the grocery store just after the doors opened at 8:30 AM to pick up some final items for our church fellowship that afternoon. Returning home, I found the usual hustle and bustle of a Sunday morning as our family gathered the many items we are responsible to bring to the rented facility (a neighborhood sede) we use for 3 1/2 hours each week. Songbooks, music stands, guitars, keyboard, computer, projector, toilet paper, bathroom cleaning supplies, hand towels, garbage bags, children's church materials, flannelgraph board, snacks and drinks and other things I have surely forgotten. (Such as hand sanitizer - a welcome item to have when greeted with the unwelcome surprise that the water had been turned off at the sede! We later learned that the municipality of Iquique is responsible to pay the water bill and had apparently decided not to. TII = This Is Iquique!)

Thirty-three people were in attendance, which was an encouraging number given that many people travel over the holidays. We were especially delighted with the visit of our friends Isabel and Pedro to the church plant for the very first time! Recently I encouraged Isabel to read through the gospel of John and invited her to church since we are studying this book in our weekly sermon series. I was so happy she decided to come! After church, since we only have the sede until 2 PM, our fellowship time to celebrate the Chilean Fiestas Patrias was planned at the home of Romo and Solange. There twenty-four of us turned out to eat homemade empanadas, delicious choripanes with fresh pebre, and drink some refreshing mote con huesillo.

It was after some of the guests had already gone home and others were playing a rousing game of Pit that a phone call alerted me to an embarrassing oversight on my part! Nearly thirty-five years ago, Ricardo Araya and his wife Norma worked alongside my parents planting a church in the community of Pudahuel in the capital city of Santiago. The night before, I had learned through a phone conversation with my dad in the States that the Araya family was actually visiting Iquique. I connected with one of their two young adult daughters to arrange a time we could connect with one another. She responded, "Tomorrow after 5 PM." We made plans to meet at FLORECE and all the while I was thinking in my own mind, "Great! Monday after 5 PM is perfect." See my mistake there?! Needless to say, that morning amidst all my running around I had not considered the need to pick up our less-than-tidy home. Thus when Daniela called to say they were waiting for me at FLORECE and kindly offered to meet me at our home instead, I scrambled to find a way home quickly to do damage control before before they arrived!

Despite a less-than-stellar start to our visit due to my confusion with the dates, the time spent together was insightful and encouraging. Ricardo is now a missionary with a Chilean agency and his primary focus is distributing the gospel message in printed form through simple postcard-style tracts designed to coordinate with specific places and events (World Cup, Mother's Day, etc.) A highlight of the evening was making contact with my parents via video chat and allowing the two couples to reconnect after many years. Laughter and memories were shared and it was a sweet reminder of how the Body of Christ extends across time and around the world.

We did also return to FLORECE and it was exciting to share this ministry which captured their hearts, as both girls work in the area of health and desire to serve God through it. They have a vibrant young adult ministry in their church with several in the health services, including a male midwife! We discussed how we might pass on the highlights of FLORECE's volunteer training to be used in their context, and a plan was set in motion to offer an intensive week of preparation this coming summer. It was encouraging to share all that God has already done and the many dreams we have for the future with a family that is passionate about serving Him.

Thanks to my wonderful husband, we ended the evening with a traditional Chilean once and warm conversation around our table. It was a bustling, busy September Sunday but overflowed with blessing!

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Goodbye, August

Goodbye, August. You were a month to remember. Beginning with a full-blown return to school and the arrival of our first-ever visitor from our home church in Lapeer, you brought happy hellos and significant goodbyes. You set a rapid pace and we did our best to keep up! Now we are sliding into September where the sun shines, flags unfurl and kites bring color to our Iquique skies. But before you go, I will attempt to hail a few of your highlights:

1. New School

I have three separate tabs on my computer for the boys' school; girls' school; and one extraneous class the girls are taking outside of their online school. Yet they are all the same curriculum. Confusing? Yes, not a little bit for this non-multi-tasker mother. But we are sort of getting the hang of it. It is hardest for the older ones who have to do so much self-learning and miss the interaction of the traditional classroom setting they enjoyed last year. I am thankful for what is available but share their sadness for what is not. We are working towards a balance, setting goals, flexing when necessary while trying to push towards potential and seeking support to fill in the gaps. Outside school Eva has returned to riding horses twice weekly; Isabel has joined a junior paramedic class on Saturdays; while Owen, Ian and Alec train and compete in basketball three days a week. Silas has happily devoted himself to play dates with his little friend Emilia during three of our school mornings, two of which are currently my days at FLORECE and thus Pedro's days as "educational administrator!"


2. Lucy's Visit

Having only met once, and that in passing in the church hallway for just a few brief minutes, we were both excited yet uncertain about what Lucy's visit would bring. Would we click and enjoy one another's company? Would she find her time and money well invested in coming all this way? Or would we overwhelm/underwhelm her (disappointing perhaps a missionary ideal with our all-too-human struggles?) To our delight, Lucy simply brought sunshine and humor, help and perspective into the early weeks of school with our children. She was the perfect dose of encouragement for them, having been homeschooled herself and even completing the bulk of her college studies online. I think she inspired our kids to think outside of the box and imagine new possibilities for their future, while also normalizing their current school experience. Most importantly, her love for Christ and people was very evident and important for our children to observe in a "normal" (ie., non-missionary!) person that they quickly grew to admire. For our girls especially, Lucy filled a "big sister" and "older friend" role that they both needed due to voids created by changes in our ministry context after furlough. Two weeks flew by, and it was truly sad for all of us to see her go! But we hope she will come back again.

3. FLORECE Ministry

By God's grace we continue to have a steady stream of clients, both old and new, coming regularly to FLORECE for maternity classes, Bible studies and counseling. We rejoice in the births of healthy new babies and the opportunities to share Christ and the hope of the gospel to the women we serve. Many times it is bittersweet as we see more clearly the hurts they carry from past wounds and the precariousness of their current circumstances. Our physical and practical help is limited, so we pray and point them to the One Who is unlimited. In a human sense, it can sometimes feel like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound and yet we are privileged to hear testimonies and witness the gradual, faithful transformation taking place in the lives of those who choose to trust Him. In August, we had several additional ministry opportunities outside of our regularly scheduled hours. One which was highly anticipated and somewhat feared was setting up an informational table at the local public university. However, a group of Christian students covered our time there in prayer and God allowed a number of positive interactions with students and visitors during our hours on campus. It was only after our departure that a counter group appeared, spreading fliers opposing life and promoting abortion among the students. The Christian students were so encouraged by our presence that they hope to have us back on a regular basis, and we have since been invited to another secular university campus as well.

4. New Church Plant

Since returning to Chile three months ago, we have plugged into the new church plant beginning with Pedro engaged in teaching and preaching. We were encouraged when our son Owen chose to pick up the guitar he set aside before furlough and try to learn the worship choruses to help in this area. Our friend Felipe has been a patient teacher. With the departure of colleagues the Spink family (one of the "significant goodbyes" this month) we find ourselves with a greater load of responsibility as Pedro also leads worship and engages in leadership development and prayer with several men on a weekly basis. Overseeing the children's ministry falls to me but I am grateful for several women who have stepped up to share the teaching responsibilities for the two age groups we currently manage. Our "classroom" is the covered patio just outside the doors of the community room where the adults meet, so space and volume control are an issue while the playground just across the street is a life saver! Kari Spink left a hole in the music department with her help on the piano, so Isabel has been doing a crash course on playing chords and hopes to help in this way. Alec is replacing Kristi Spink on the computer to coordinate slides during songs, and Pedro is encouraging Ian to heartily sing and bolster the congregation in this way. Eva is our faithful Silas wrangler, which is much needed on a Sunday morning! There are many details to remember, from bathroom supplies (clean hand towel, hand soap, cleaning items) to craft materials to snacks and extra Bibles, since we cannot leave items at the rented space from week to week. We sense the need to creatively plan outreach opportunities to this community in order to make others feel welcome to join on Sunday mornings and find ways of expanding the ministry throughout the week. There are many ideas but limited hands and time, so we pray for wisdom and strength!

5. Family from Afar

My dad had knee replacement surgery at the beginning of August. It was a hard time to be far away, knowing there was uncertainty about timing and insurance coverage beforehand, and hearing the struggles with pain management and recovery afterwards. My oldest sister's presence was a blessing and yet we wished there was a way to share the responsibility she carried for our parents alone. A tender outcome of this was our children's increased sensitivity to pray for their Pop-Pop, yet the distance between us felt daunting during this difficult time.

6. Fond Farewells

In Chilean culture, it is important to say goodbye well and certainly the many expressions of farewell to the Spink family reflected the love of those to whom they have ministered in Iquique. At FLORECE the volunteers hosted a supper after Kim's final shift on a Tuesday evening. Stories were shared of humorous moments with Kim, as well as thankfulness for her testimony and how it had encouraged each of the ladies. The church plant farewelled the Spinks with cake and pizza after their final Sunday service, and we enjoyed having them for a cookout, game and movie night later that same day. After countless times in which they have blessed us with caring for our children, we were happy to have their remaining five at home with us their last night before departure so that Jon and Kim could complete the inevitable last-minute details. Pedro was one of several men who helped with the airport run and at the time of this writing, the Spink family should be winging their way through the sky toward a year of stateside ministry. They will be missed, but in exchange we look forward to welcoming Jon and Pam Sharp at the end of September!

7. Miscellaneous Moments

Mixed in with scheduled life and ministry are many miscellaneous moments. This month, some of those moments looked like meals with dear friends who are going through difficult times as families. In one case we met halfway between their house and ours at FLORECE one morning for a simple spread of sandwiches, juice, coffee and prayer. Another time we were humbled with a generous meal prepared for us by the very ones experiencing a job need. There is so much more we wish we could do to make things better for those around us who are struggling, specifically with a challenging economy. Another miscellaneous moment meant sitting with a widowed friend who faces serious physical limitations yet is the sole provider of full-time care for her elderly mother with increasing dementia. Again, we talked and prayed and asked how we could do more to help in a difficult and discouraging time. In our miscellaneous moments, we are reminded that "as long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me" [Jesus.] May we be sensitive and faithful to carry out this calling!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

When to Say Yes, When to Say No

It *may* be that I have a tendency to overanalyze life sometimes. It happens under the heading of "evaluation" and could easily slide over into the "comparison" column without intervention. I find it especially challenging with the life we live, one where our family (of eight people) and our home and our ministry and our "office" are often all in the one and the same 1300 square feet of living space. For me personally, my FLORECE days are the easiest in that I go to a specific place for a specific period of time to do a fairly specific job. But my "easiest" days translate into my husband's "hardest" days since the duties of parenting, homeschooling, chauffeuring, chefing, and - if he's lucky enough that the kids finish school early - studying and preparing for weekend ministries all fall into his lap during the 10+ hours I am away from home. Occasionally he might even add hosting to his list if he has the opportunity for a breakfast meeting with a brother in Christ on those days!

There are times when I wish life was so much simpler, and times when I beat myself up for not accomplishing more. The "tyranny of the urgent" is real and exhausting and I struggle with it. When is it important to say yes, and when should I say no? If ministry is about people, how can I not respond in the affirmative when an opportunity presents itself even at the last minute (since that is how it regularly happens in our country of service.) I can cite two instances in just the past week. First, with maybe 48 hours' notice I was asked to set up an informational table about FLORECE at an event where multiple churches in our area would be represented. Since it has been difficult to get into many churches, this seemed like an opportunity I should not turn down. It just so happened to fall on the same day as a full shift at the pregnancy center, so I left home around 8 AM and did not return until after 10 PM. 

The second situation was unique in that a pastor from Santiago gave Pedro's number to a woman from his church who was visiting Iquique to care for her elderly aunt and uncle. It made sense and was more comfortable for my husband if I carried out the communication with her. Long story short, she had to fly home on the same day her 86-year old aunt needed a ride to the nursing home where she would sadly be signing papers for her husband of 69 years (now invalid and bedridden) to move there. I was asked to provide that ride even though I'd never met anyone in the family. It was a Monday morning and a day we try to get a running start to our homeschool week, so even as I said yes I struggled with frustration at giving up that day and conversely guilt over my selfish feelings. 

The more I say yes to people outside our home, the less I can say yes to those living in it. Keeping up with household chores has improved with some added responsibilities the older children now carry; however, laundry is never ever completely done. Meal planning is frequently on the fly and we often "fly" to pick up pizza or empanadas or other yummy, quick, relatively inexpensive but not-so-healthy option. Even as I sometimes feel guilty about taking time away from the kids, I also feel determined that they learn at a young age that life should be less about self and more about service. But I struggle to keep that "one thing" (Luke 10:42) at the forefront of my life and theirs which is the quiet, personal walk with Jesus we need to have as individual believers and as a family. 

This morning we talked about the story of Mary and Martha as we prepared for school. Prior to that I was reminded again that more is "caught" than "taught." As the first big child stumbled downstairs and curled up next to me while I sought to start my day in prayer and God's Word, I hoped he would consider his own time with Jesus today. And in our comings and goings, the ministries planned and unplanned both inside and outside our home, I hope our children see glimpses of God's greater purposes for their lives as well. I pray for wisdom to know when to say yes, and when to say no - and for God's grace to fill in all the places between!

Friday, August 24, 2018

I Blame It All on Kim

I blame it all on my colleague Kim.

As the minutes ticked slowly towards midnight ... 11:54 ... 11:56 ... 11:58 ... I couldn't help thinking but for her I would be ensconced in bed and blissfully sleeping. By way of an earlier Whatsapp message, I knew her to already be there (in her bed) and (I imagined) beautifically dreaming.

At least until her alarm woke her at midnight. Because thanks to Kim, we were both pledged to this late-night "predicament!"

It began, as many memorable moments do, as a dilemma. It was nighttime and Kim, my daughter Isabel and I had just completed our monthly meeting at FLORECE. Although the downtown street was lighted we knew that wisdom dictated a brisk walk to the car with the less time spent on a dim city sidewalk, the better.  However, just before reaching the vehicle we saw an older man several strides behind us lose the contents of his plastic grocery bag when it suddenly split open. Our heads swiveled towards, away, and back again to the scene. Was this a neighbor needing assistance on his way home from the grocery store? Or one of Iquique's many unfortunate homeless, likely under the influence of a substance which rendered questionable the prudence of approaching him?

Of course, Kim reacted first and headed in his direction. I thrust the car keys into my daughter's hand, trusting her to scramble in safely while I joined my colleague at the man's side. "Can I help you?" she offered, and he barely looked up before gesturing that she deposit the contents of the intact bag on the curb so that he could reuse it for half a marraqueta and other indistinguishable items on the ground. We glanced indecisively at each other and I quickly suggested that I might get a couple more bags up the street at FLORECE. Without commentary, the man motioned me in that direction. Hurriedly I returned and handed one bag to Kim. By now the man was more conversant, having clued in to the fact that she spoke English and ordering her in accented tones to "Open! Open!" the bag for him.

He began scooping what appeared to be handfuls of dirt into the plastic grocery bag. With each scoop his animated conversation increased. He told us his job was to "snookel ... you understand? ... snookel" and when I asked if he meant "snorkel" he sniffed and corrected me in his accented English, "You Americans say it that way. I speak British English. You understand? British English! In British English it is snookel." And that was that, as far as he was concerned. His name was Giorgio, he told us with flair, "Giorgio Cohe - o Jorge en español y George en ingles pero Giorgio en Italiano!" and he had traveled the world. He spoke Spanish and English, Italian and Portuguese, and even Hebrew - as he proudly showed us the Star of David dangling on a shiny gold chain around his neck.

It was late, and getting later, so we sought to extricate ourselves graciously from the conversation by explaining that we needed to get home to our families. This didn't sit well with Giorgio who suddenly became incensed and waved his arms about. "Go!" he commanded. "A mi no me gustan las justificaciones!" ("I don't like justifications!") But he pointed aggrievedly at the forgotten bags on the ground. "I didn't ask for help! You said you were going to help!"

Jarred by the sudden change in temperament, we meekly said our apologies and slowly backed away. I don't remember how the topic of prayer even came up, but with a fabulous blend of haughtiness and temper he told us that, "I pray to my friend, Jesus! The thin man! And my prayers go up! But your prayers ..." - and here he bent down to sweep his palms over the dust of the ground - "... they just may go this far! Down here!"

It was almost tempting to chuckle. But as suddenly as his temper flared, it went away (later he told us that an evil wind overtook him sometimes) and he begged our pardon. Extending one hand to each of us, he urged us to make a circle and pray. It was late, it was dark, it was a city street with the occasional car passing by and a few pedestrians coming and going. Yet we acquiesced and stood with our hands in his. Then he fell to his knees for a heartfelt soliloquy. "Oh Jesus of Nazareth ..." he began, as we silently listened. Words flowed from his mouth and it was impossible to not feel pity and wonder at the plight of a man whose appearance and enunciation indicated he once had education, a family, a home. What had brought him to this place in life? Hints of possibilities lay in the statement he repeated several times during the night's long conversation. "So maybe I had one drink," he admitted. "But that doesn't make me a bad person! Even the priests drink wine, and I am better than them."

"You're not Catholic, are you?" he asked at one point. Upon hearing that our families were missionary church planters, he urged us to pray for a large building. "Ask and you will receive!" he firmly recited. "At midnight, I will pray for you," he pledged. "And you will pray for me. Yes? You promise?"

In response, Kim said the fateful words. "I will pray for you. At midnight. I promise!" With that statement lingering in the air, we finally said our goodbyes. We climbed into the van and she remarked, "I guess I will be setting my clock tonight!" 

And while my selfish heart groaned, it also admired the fact that this is just who she is. By the grace of God, a very good and very kind and very honest person. Proverbs 27:17 states: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Thanks to Kim, I got sharpened the night we met Giorgio. And thanks to Kim, Giorgio got prayed for in two separate homes by two separate women at the stroke of midnight. Who knows what answers to prayer might come for him? 

If so, he can blame it all on my colleague Kim!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

When Life Is an Adventure

"Your life is always such an adventure."

These words are spoken to me on a regular basis by my mother when I video chat with her between my home in Iquique and hers in Pennsylvania. I can't tell if this is admiration or chiding or wistfulness (reflecting on her own none-too-boring years as a missionary and pastor's wife) but I appreciate the times when I've had a crazy enough day to merit the description! This past Friday was one such day.

It began, as all Fridays have since my second week back in Chile, with a shift at FLORECE. Isabel accompanied me as she typically does on Fridays to help as receptionist while two other volunteers and I share the counseling duties. This particular day was different since I was scheduled to join a pastor's wife for a brief meeting with a Chilean senator at 11:30 AM. The office was conveniently located only two blocks away so I was able to walk there and back; however, not surprisingly the meeting was delayed and it was well over an hour later when I returned.

As I re-entered FLORECE I found a bustling crowd for our small center, with five guests from a local church having dropped in for a tour and my daughter Eva and her friend Meme also visiting for a couple of hours. We are always happy for an opportunity to share the ministry so it was a blessing to tell our story and answer some questions. Meanwhile I also had a client waiting so it was a morning of running from one thing to the next before we closed the doors at 2 PM. There was still paperwork to complete and I had promised our volunteer Catalina to help track down pictures for the latest babies born so that she could add their "flowers" to our FLORECE tree. Isabel walked to a nearby restaurant to bring back their lunch special for us and between eating and finishing tasks it was after 5 PM when we finally headed towards home.

I say "towards" home because we had one stop along the way, to pick up Meme's mother and grandmother who were joining us for an odd mix of weekly Bible study and cachureando. To cachurear in Chilean Spanish means something akin to "garage saleing" in English, i.e, looking through another's man junk to find one's own treasure. To make a long (albeit interesting) story short, we have lately been the recipients of car loads of widely varying "stuff" as a family empties out their nearby home. What can be donated to FLORECE is set aside first and then we have attempted to bless others who might need what comes our way. When we discovered that Catalina and Isabel (Meme's grandmother) are masters at sifting through items (and even enjoy it!) I invited them to go through our latest acquisitions. 

Very quickly, our front patio became a bustling and humorous scene. Because it grows dark early these days, we had the outdoor light on but also needed to weave an extension cord out the sliding glass window to add a standing floor lamp for illumination. There were boxes and bags everywhere, with half a dozen people exploring their contents. Silas was eagerly testing toys while the three teenaged girls rummaged through a box of magazines. Catalina and Isabel classified clothing while a phone call brought another three visitors to join the fray. People passing by outside our gate occasionally turned their heads to gawk at the chaos. Meanwhile Pedro slipped out to pick up a meter-long pizza and pair of meter-long churrascos to feed the crowd!

Eventually the cachureando died down and we dove into the impromptu once meal which was sweetened with some specially ordered Chilean dulces (miniature pie de limon, brazo de reina, maicenas and merengues with manjar) brought by our guests. More importantly, when the physical food was finished we broke out the spiritual food! We recently began a book entitled Quien Es Jesucristo? which is a six-week study on what God's Word teaches about Jesus Christ and the qualities that set Him apart as our only Savior. This week's lesson raised such great questions and led to thoughtful discussion among the ladies present. It was such a full yet beautifully encouraging day and night! 

Not surprisingly, it was quite late when we finished and I set off with my daughter and a carful of giggling women laden with parcels to deliver each to her home. It was later still when I parked in front of our home at midnight, only to run into my neighbor who had also just arrived! In the chilly night air we chatted for nearly an hour. Around 1 AM, I finally clanged our heavy metal gate closed behind me and joined my husband who was patiently waiting up for my return. At that moment, I was reminded of my mother's words: "Your life is always such an adventure!" Today, at least, it certainly was. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Returning to FLORECE

with my daughter Isabel at FLORECE (June 2018)

This week included the privilege of taking ten individuals on three separate tours of FLORECE. Though it does not require much time to walk through our center, it is always a joy to do so while remembering and recounting all that God has done! From my personal perspective, the long version of FLORECE's story extends back nearly 20 years to my diagnosis of infertility which led to adoption and birthed compassion in my heart for the complexities of an unplanned pregnancy. Less than a year after our first daughter joined our family through adoption, I was invited to volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center in Michigan and witnessed firsthand the impact that love, education, hope and the gospel message could have in the lives of women and their families.

daughters Isabel and Eva entertaining a client's sweet baby

We opened the doors at FLORECE on October 1st of 2016 and not yet two years later, we have had the privilege of ministering to over one hundred women and seeing at least twenty-five babies born. The beginning weeks and months of FLORECE's ministry were exciting yet uncertain and slow as we felt our way forward and trusted God to send the first clients through our doors. When our family departed Iquique for a year stateside in June 2017, our volunteers had seen the first baby born but had not yet experienced the joy of a new spiritual birth among the women to whom we ministered. Now by the grace of God, close to twenty individuals have placed their faith in Christ for salvation! We have the joy of offering Bible studies alongside pregnancy preparation and parenting classes on a weekly basis. Our greatest encouragement is when a woman takes the next step and finds a church home, learning and growing faithfully through the preaching of God's Word and fellowship with other believers. For many of our clients this is difficult due to a lack of support from other family members or financial hardship that requires them to work on Sundays. 

a recent generous donation from a church plant five hours south of us in Antofagasta

To our great surprise but in God's providence, our numbers multiplied with the arrival of one client not from Chile but distant Cuba. We have now added many women from Cuba to our clients representing also the countries of Chile, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. With volunteers from Chile, United States and India, we have quite the international center! Working side by side is a beautiful representation of the body of the Christ and our call as Christians to "go into ALL the world and preach the gospel." It is also a reminder that women all over the world need the hope that only Jesus brings. We are burdened to reach more abortion-minded women before they make that final choice, and to minister to women who are hurting from decisions made that cannot be undone. 

snapshots from our center

Our three biggest prayer requests and needs at this time are additional volunteers; a permanent home for the center; and open doors into area schools. Currently FLORECE is open for two and a half days a week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Additional volunteers would allow us to meet the needs of more clients and possibly consider opening an extra day per week. A permanent home is necessary for two increasingly urgent reasons. The first is simply that our initial funding was sufficient for only three years' rent, and we will soon complete our second year. The second reason is that God wonderfully and unexpectedly provided funds for an ultrasound machine which would allow a window into the womb and undoubtedly invite many more women to consider life and hear the gospel. However, our current facility does not have the necessary space to outfit a room that will meet legal/medical standards for the country of Chile. 

The third need - open doors into area schools - fulfills our vision of reaching a far greater number of abortion-minded women than those who simply walk through our doors. I once heard pregnancy center ministry described as putting the pieces back together after someone had jumped off a cliff, while pro-life education in schools seeks to rescue young people before they jump from that precipice. We had a tremendous experience entering several schools last year with a one-time message but our desire is to build relationships with a number of institutions that would allow us several weeks (or months) of interaction with students. We hope to build rapport as we teach not only the sanctity of life concerning the unborn, but also valuable tools for pursuing healthy choices and relationships in their lives. Should a crisis occur, we trust God would lead them to FLORECE because they know we truly care.

There are overwhelming needs and opportunities all around us, and so many hopes and dreams yet to be realized. Returning to FLORECE has provided a time of reflection on all that God has already done. And it has fueled renewed purpose to be used of Him to reach as many people in as many places as He will allow! We seek His guidance and strength to be wise and faithful each and every step of the way.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Today We Remembered

Our receptionist at FLORECE was puzzled. "There's a birth date on the list for this month but I don't recognize the name." Neither did I, so I asked her for the client file. Understanding dawned as I studied the counselor's notes about a young teenaged couple coming for a pregnancy test and asking pointed questions about abortion. The counselor is one of our most experienced and compassionate, and I knew she would have invested her very best efforts in a difficult scenario. The fact that a return visit never occurred and the contact telephone was no longer in service (or perhaps falsified from the beginning) gave every indication that their minds had already been made up. So sadly, today we remembered a birthday that never was. All I could think of was this video. Some choices can never be undone, nor ever forgotten. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

"You Can Do It!" (Part 2)

When I was young and naive, I loved reading fiction and worried little about its relationship to reality. Now older with a more sober understanding of the world, I appreciate biographies and the encouragement I find reading stories of people who faced difficulties and overcame by God's sustaining grace. This two-part tale is not an epic one (though it felt of epic proportions when our family was in the midst of it!) Rather it is a reminder that God does carry us over mountains and to the other side. My challenge is to acknowledge His presence when the pressure mounts, in the moment rather than a month later when the dust has settled. I am thankful for His undeserved grace.


(Link to Part 1.)

The Miami airport was warm and humid as we gathered our personal items, collected the stroller and strode out into its vast expanse. Unfortunately our  national flight dropped us off light years from the international terminal we needed for the next phase of our journey. We walked ... and walked ... and walked ... and still could not find our proper location. Overhead we saw a transit train and hoped it might take us to our gate. Up we went ... and down we returned ... because our destination was nowhere to be seen. The clock was ticking and we knew that one boarding pass (mine) was still missing, thus making it imperative that we find a ticket counter to get it issued. Finally we realized there were doors to our left that exited the national terminal and directed us towards the gate we needed. Even so, we faced another very long trek to our intended location. Everyone was tired and some of the kids struggled to keep stride as urgency pushed us onward. Our surroundings began to look familiar and with a sinking feeling we confirmed that another dreaded security point awaited us. However, our one missing boarding pass was imperative to gain entrance.

Just outside of the security lines we finally found our airline counters. By then it was nearly time to begin boarding our international flight. I flagged an agent who after hearing my dilemma, directed me to a line that said it was for crew members only. Pedro and the kids collapsed in a corner while I waited ... and waited ... and waited. Something was causing a roadblock up ahead. Meanwhile some of the kids needed bathrooms and the baby cried for a bottle but no one wanted to move until that precious piece of paper was in hand, knowing we'd need to sprint for security once it arrived. I flagged another agent who informed me that check in was already closed for our flight. Insistently I replied that there were eight of us traveling, seven had their passes and I was the mother and had to travel with my family! She led me to the front of another line and spoke to the next available ticket agent.

Finally I was at a counter, and God graciously placed a woman behind it who knew what she doing and who assured me - as I worriedly glanced back and forth between my watch and waiting family - that we would be okay. Not only did she reissue all of our boarding passes, but she also took the time to print the ones we would need for our final leg from Santiago to Iquique. Thankful, tired yet still stressed as security loomed before us, I gave the family a thumbs up and we headed toward the line. By this point it was nearly 9 o'clock at night and Silas was at the end of his rope, crying brokenheartedly for a bottle we could not give him because liquids were not allowed. As we pushed our pile of belongings through the x-ray machine, again there were items separated for review and by now our flight was boarding. Dear Isabel tried finding milk for her brother but nearby restaurants were closed and not even a little market carried the now-precious resource. I wish I could say I felt supernatural peace in this moment, but my emotions - as his shrieks echoed through the forced wait for inspection while the minutes ticked before our plane left without us - felt like a time bomb ready to explode.

When the last item was screened and we sprinted around the corner to our gate, I could have laughed if I wasn't so entirely drained. My first thought was, "Of course! This is a Chilean flight." Because there in front of us, despite boarding time having passed and departure looming, was still a long line of people waiting nonchalantly to get on the plane. No one seemed stressed or in a hurry except our sweaty family with the screaming child. Thankfully we were ushered on quickly and as we passed the pleasant flight attendants saying "welcome aboard" I pleaded immediately for a bottle of milk. We stumbled through the process of finding seats, with one (Owen) separated from the rest but content to make new friends with whatever seatmate he might find. (In fact, on our long trek through the airport he had regaled us with facts about the man he conversed with on the flight before!) There was some confusion with Pedro's assignment but eventually he landed on the aisle next to a traveling couple and across from him was Isabel in a row of strangers. Behind her sat Eva, Ian and Alec and across the aisle and slightly behind them in a corner set of two seats I tried to calm Silas (who was devastated when his coveted bottle came and was too hot to drink!)   

And then the plane took off ... darkness fell ... and ever so slowly, nerves wound tightly on edge began to loosen as Silas eventually fell asleep, his siblings contented themselves with the novelty of individual screens to play games and watch movies, Pedro crashed into well-deserved deep slumber and the white noise of the humming engines became a lullaby that would last for the next eight hours.

Compared to the first two-thirds of our journey: landing in Santiago; passing immigration and customs; gathering all of our luggage, rescanning it, riding up the elevator and returning it to an agent on the main floor; walking through one more security line where no shoes, jackets or electronics must be removed; and waiting to board our final flight was a breeze. We were tired but adrenaline served its purpose upon arriving in Iquique and the details of those first few days are recorded in another post! All that remains to say is that yes, "You Can Do It!" but only by God's grace and strength. May I remember this next time plans crumble, problems collide and pressures commence! Thank you, Lord, for bringing us safely "home." 

Monday, July 02, 2018

"You Can Do It!" (Part 1)

When I was young and naive, I loved reading fiction and worried little about its relationship to reality. Now older with a more sober understanding of the world, I appreciate biographies and the encouragement I find reading stories of people who faced difficulties and overcame by God's sustaining grace. This two-part tale is not an epic one (though it felt of epic proportions when our family was in the midst of it!) Rather it is a reminder that God does carry us over mountains and to the other side. My challenge is to acknowledge His presence when the pressure mounts, in the moment rather than a month later when the dust has settled. I am thankful for His undeserved grace.


a picture of a quiet moment during packing days
At the top of the stairs, I did a double take when I saw the words written in large Sharpie print on a full-length mirror. "You Can Do It!" the mirror cheered. It was my teenaged daughter's attempt to spur our family on as we struggled through the final stressful days of packing our furlough home in Ephrata. If there is one regret I carry as a missionary mom, it is the emotional strain our children undergo (right along with us) in the days ramping up to and immediately following our family's major life moves. Though we try to intersperse lighthearted moments in the midst of pressure-filled days, inevitably there are times of failure when words spill out in frustration and expectations are unclear or unrealistic. This transition in particular felt heavy, with such a positive year for our children behind us and many unknowns ahead. But with Isabel's words reflecting hope, we pushed on and were carried by the prayers of many from one country to another on June 29-30, 2018.

The night before we left (Monday) we spent one final evening with the Fisher cousins and Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. We would see everyone but Pop-Pop again the next day before departure. After our meal, we gathered the grandchildren around to hear his words of farewell. He shared how when he and Mom-Mom left for the mission field so many years ago, he did not understand what his father felt saying goodbye. Now he understands all too well. He tried to explain in simple words that he could be somewhat changed the next time our kids see him, due to the illness he is battling. And he assured each one of his love and prayers even while we were far away. Needless to say, tears were shed and hearts were heavy as we headed home to one final push of packing before the next morning's mayhem.

Mom-Mom in true fashion saved the day for us by rolling up her sleeves and coming to tie up loose ends at the missionary home in the wake of our departure. Other friends had kindly offered to come help but she said she could do it - and maybe it was her way of staving off sorrow with sweaty hard work! We felt badly but she insisted and so we said tender farewells and left her there, armed with cleaning agents and a to-do list as we drove off with the Fisher family in two vehicles towards the Baltimore airport. There at the curb we unloaded our crazy amount of loot: sixteen full-size suitcases, eight bulging carry-on suitcases, and eight personal items plus a diaper bag and stroller. Practicality won out and goodbyes were said quickly to Aunt Terri, Uncle Dave, Benjamin, Nathaniel and Sophia who had been such a sweet part of our furlough year as we enjoyed living just twenty minutes apart for the first time ever!
a picture just before the adventure began

Fortunately, with the aid of luggage carts and a couple of strong young sons eager to push them, we made it quickly to the nearby counter and began to lift suitcases onto the scale. This is where things began to crumble, as bags which were perfectly weighed at fifty pounds or under on the home scale seemed to have gained a pound en route. While sometimes this isn't an issue, on this morning the agent felt pressured to be a stickler because her supervisor was somewhere nearby. (How do we know this? Because towards the end of sixteen bags, she whispered that he had gone downstairs and she wouldn't worry about the last few!) 

She was kind but firm, encouraging us that "just a little" needed to be taken out of this bag or that. "How about a pair of jeans?" she asked at one point as we crouched, sweating and stressed, zipping and unzipping, crowding the path that other passengers must navigate around us to their own luggage counters. Obviously she was not the mother of a teenaged MK girl and little did she know the story of those jeans or the pursuit of the perfect pair to take back to Chile where there would be unavailable for another x amount of years! So we pulled out pants with worn hems and a hand-me-down hoodie I would have liked to keep, and one daughter's sandals purchased in Chile and able to be replaced there. The agent gave us bags to hold them but already maxed out with personal item allotments we had little choice but to discard what didn't meet the weight allowance. It was not a stellar way to begin nearly 24 hours of travel, and already-fragile emotions began to fray.

Finally check in was done, with one strange occurrence. While boarding passes for all of us printed neatly for our first flight (Baltimore to Miami), the system printed all but one boarding pass for the second flight (Miami to Santiago) and none but one for the final flight (Santiago to Iquique.) Little did we know this seemingly minor detail would ratchet up the pressure at our next stop! At the time we were just glad to move on to the following step - airport security - which we had tried to talk over in advance with our children and we all dreaded. Unfortunately, one teen affected by the loss of personal items at check-in reached an early breaking point. Struggling with bags in the security line led to a rush of tears. A kind stranger tried to help and little brother Silas in his stroller was exchanged for the bags, as he was easier to maneuver and his eager curiosity helped take the edge off an emotionally charged moment.

Airport security on US soil is a strict routine: Take off shoes, take off jackets, take out electronics. What we didn't anticipate was the agent saying each child had to hold his or her own passport. Since a passport is basically worth its weight in gold, our kids do not normally handle them and most didn't even know where to find their own picture. Not only that, but as the pile of eight blue books was handed from one to another it was dropped to the floor and nearly caused cardiac arrest for one overwrought mother. We tried to direct our tribe to the less-busy lane but needless to say it felt like we were "all thumbs" trying to give instructions, oversee opening and closing and lifting and pushing, juggling the baby and stroller (an unwieldy thing that also had to be folded flat and miraculously squeezed through the machine) and making sure everything and everyone made it through.  Of course it would have been impossible for so many items to survive without scrutiny, and one or two of us being called aside for inspection made the process even more chaotic. (Humorous note to self: Fetal models are an unusual carry-on item and will always get questioned!) 

Finally, however, we were all through. Bags were reorganized, shoes replaced and tied, boarding passes in hand and hungry bellies ready to be filled. We filed through the halls to our gate and tried to make an organized pile of belongings, then six went off to find food while two remained on luggage guard duty. I was happy to be one of them. A blessing at this point in time was the request for passengers to relinquish carry-on suitcases to the luggage hold free of charge. They would be sent all the way to Chile (no need to pick them up in Miami) and create significantly less hassle lugging them onto the airplanes and through the connecting airports. Thank you, Lord! By the time we had checked them in and everyone had eaten, it was time to board the first flight. One down, two to go ... (To be continued in Part 2.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

When a Month Feels Like a Year (And That's Not Necessarily a Bad Thing)

We are closing in on one month home in Iquique. It feels exponentially longer than that! That is not a bad thing, simply the days and weeks have been so busy with such a broad variety of activities and commitments. With mixed emotions I recently realized that in our 3 1/2 weeks in Chile we have probably had more non-family members in our home than we did the entire year we were stateside! Part of that is culture and shorter distances and living shoulder to shoulder in a city context.

In addition to catching up with our nearby friends and neighbors, we've had a surprising number of visitors in these short weeks. This has been fun while serving the additional purpose of spurring us to finish tasks at home in order to host others. Pedro was glad to reinstate his trusty old charcoal grill and prepare a send off for Bonnie and Trin of, who graced our city with their presence (and our home with their paint brushes!) during their travels around the continent of South America. He also enjoyed the role of tour guide for them, taking a well-deserved break from endless house projects to drive to the town of Pisagua (which they later described in a colorful blog entry.)

Two other friends who visited Iquique this past week hold a close connection to this very blog, as we "met" one another through it. Raquel found us through the blog as she was completing a year-long missions trip around the world. Although she was raised in Iquique she did not come to know the Lord until her college years in the States, so she was unfamiliar with evangelical churches in the city. Her initial contact with us was to request a ride to our church when she returned for a visit with her family. We enjoyed getting to know her that Sunday several years ago, and have kept up on her life through Facebook and e-mail since then. She completed her studies, got married, and returned this month with her new husband to fulfill some family obligations and introduce him to Iquique.  It was great to reconnect and be able to assist them in some small way. A highlight certainly was taking them on a tour of FLORECE, as both have tender hearts for ministry and for children. We look forward to seeing how God leads them in the future!

Our Australian friend Vikki also found us through the blog. Our very first communication dates back five years ago as she and her husband and two boys were preparing to move to Iquique. Soon they became dear friends, attending our church, sharing play dates, putting the kids in sports together, etc. I admire Vikki so much for her tenacity and spirit of adventure. She did not allow a language barrier to keep her from developing relationships with the women of church, or becoming a well-known customer bartering for vegetables at the local market. She boldly marched to her own drumbeat, refusing to bow to the status quo but somehow managing to do so with kindness towards all. And when God rescued her life from a deadly brain aneurysm in the midst of a stressful move from Iquique to Santiago, she demonstrated faith, grace and strength in the scariest of trials. We were so sorry to see her family go, yet enjoyed our visits back and forth within Chile while they lasted. Now they are returning permanently to Australia and we are thankful they made time for one final trip to our home before saying goodbye!

In addition to visitors, our weeks have been filled with multiple trips to hardware and grocery stores; resuming a schedule of ministry at church and FLORECE; slowly shaping the house back into a home; paying bills and hanging curtains and setting up phones and buying mattresses and even ordering a new debit card after mysteriously losing it just a week after arriving home. All this, amidst the cacophony of daily hours of jack hammering as the house next door is demolished down to the ground! With our kids on vacation from school, perhaps the hardest part has been establishing a solid routine for family life and we hope that another month from now we will have found a new normal in that regard. One night last week we took a break just to breathe some fresh air as a family and walk along the boardwalk at evening time. We bought cheese empanadas from one vendor and churros from another. Silas ran happily back and forth, excited to finally have some room to stretch apart from his not-frequent-enough walks to a nearby park.

It's been a long month, but a good month. There have been high moments and low moments, moments of stress and of laughter, of finding our place and remembering our place in this corner of the world. But I think I can honestly write that we are glad to be back and busy in the things God has called our family to here in Iquique, with open hearts and hope for all He has in store!